Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne give excellent performances in John Logan's riveting play about artist Mark Rothko.
The action of Red unfolds over the course of two years as Rothko works on the famed murals that were to have hung at the Four Seasons restaurant in New York. During the course of the play, an uneasy professional relationship develops between the men as mentor and pupil, even as an even more awkward personal bond develops; both are informed (unsurprisingly) by two comments Rothko makes early on. When he first meets Ken and explains what the younger man's duties will be, he declares with characteristic bluntness "I am not your father." Later, while discussing the greats who preceded him, Rothko says "The child must banish the father. Respect him, but kill him."
The subtle changes in the men's relationship, which are completely presaged in these comments, are part of what draws theatergoers into the piece. A gorgeously choreographed sequence in which they throw themselves and maroon paint at a gargantuan canvas speaks volumes about their evolving relationship even though not one word is spoken between them. Here and elsewhere, what is so compelling is the fact that the shifts in power between the men is both as nuanced and bold as one of Rothko's own pieces.
Even as the performers' work together fascinates, their work individually scintillates. Molina, head shaved and eyes often hidden behind heavy black glasses, plays Rothko with ferocity and a level of tunnel-vision that borders on frightening. He strides the stage with leonine intensity and the artist's volcanic outbursts consistently startle. The performer also manages to capture the man's dichotomous moods of exhilaration and despair with not only controlled maniacal energy, but also genuine sensitivity.
Redmayne plays the initially timid assistant with innate and quiet intelligence that's mixed with a keenly felt vulnerability. As the character matures, and audiences learn more about him, the latter trait is enhanced immeasurably before his own eruption, a moment which Redmayne blisteringly delivers.