Tim Simeone and Kevin McClatchy in CATCO's <i>Red</i>
Tim Simeone and Kevin McClatchy in CATCO's Red
(© Kevin James)
The arts community of Columbus, Ohio is celebrating acclaimed American expressionist painter Mark Rothko this month with both a museum exhibition and a semi-biographical play. First, the Columbus Museum of Art opened Mark Rothko: The Decisive Decade 1940-1950 on February 1. Then, on February 13, CATCO will join the Rothko party with its production of John Logan's 2010 Tony Award-winning play Red.

The dual-venue collaboration, produced 110 years after the artist's birth in the Vitebsk Province of Russia, was serendipitous. When Steven C. Anderson, CATCO's producing director, received a call from the museum several years ago, suggesting the two-show partnership, he had actually already planned to produce Red -- at around the same time.

"No one will believe it because it looks like there's been careful planning for a decade," Anderson told TheaterMania. "The director of the Museum said, ‘How far in advance do you plan your season?' and I said, ‘Well, you know, 2 or 3 years.' She said, ‘We've been working for the past 5-6 years on this Rothko exhibition.' And we said ‘Funny enough, we're doing Red.' …It was just one of those things that was supposed to happen, I think."

Red, which hit Broadway in 2010 after premiering at the Donmar Warehouse in London, is set in a New York studio on the Bowery in the late 1950s, as Rothko and his assistant prepare the enormous canvases for the murals he was commissioned to paint for the Four Seasons restaurant. The artist, who dismissed the commercialization of art and art as decoration during his career, accepted a commission to decorate the famous New York restaurant (known as the Seagram Commission). As Rothko barks out orders, his fictional assistant questions his involvement on a project considered so commercial.

At CATCO, the joint celebration will feature a talkback after the February 17 matinee performance of Red, with presenters including dramaturg Tory Matsos, exhibit curator Dominique H. Vasseur, and director Jimmy Bohr. Matsos and Vasseur have been in contact via social media throughout the collaboration.

"The really fascinating thing about this exhibition is it begins in Rothko's early career and goes right up to when he did the Seagram Murals (Red's focus)," Anderson said. "So, hopefully people will go and see the exhibition and then come to see the play and then be anxious to go back and see the exhibition."

Anderson believes that this collaboration can create a new audience for both art forms. "We hope the outcome is that those who claim visual art as their major interest will maybe claim theater as well -- and vice versa."