“Do you ever get tired of telling people what art is?” “No, not ever.”
That’s pretty much the plotline of Red now playing at the Sandra Feinstein Gamm Theatre. A two person cast of comprised of Gamm favorite Marc Mancini and Trinity Company member Fred Sullivan, Jr. (who’s making his on- stage debut at the Gamm) effortlessly delivers the flawlessly-crafted script by John Logan. Though Red was first produced in London back in 2009, Logan has been back in the spotlight recently for his work on the new James Bond film, “Skyfall.” Though I haven’t seen the new Bond flick yet, I can assume it’s infused with as much intellect and linguistic precision as “Red.”
Under the direction of Tony Estrella, Fred Sullivan delivers a powerful performance as Mark Rothko, the abstract artist who gained fame in the 1950’s for his colorful, vivid works. It’s fun to see Sullivan off the Trinity stage and in a new space – he spends his summer in Boston performing Shakespeare on The Common, but I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing him in that setting – especially a smaller space.
I’m familiar with Sullivan’s booming baritone from both his work on stage and off. In Trinity, you don’t necessarily notice how powerful his lungs are because of the size of the playing space. At the Gamm, you don’t just listen to Sullivan’s words, you feel them. As a former student of his, I’m familiar with how his speech can literally fill a room (and terrify budding young actors like myself in the best way possible); but used to recapitulate the emotions of a man plagued by his artistic mind and fear of death, his basso profundo is a marvelous tool.
Pair that with Marc Mancini, a diminutive aspiring painter named Ken, and you’ve got quite the dynamic.
I don’t think I need to waste space by telling you how terrific Mancini’s and Sullivan’s performances were, or how well directed the actors were under Estrella’s watchful eye, so I won’t. Instead, I’ll tell you about the play itself, which, although highly intelligent, insightful, fascinating and, at times, provocative, does get a bit high-brow, lugubrious, preachy and, as Mancini’s character points out, pretentious. After about an hour of listening to Sullivan’s Rothko soliloquy on art and how what everyone else thinks about it is wrong, Mancini bursts out in what I found to be the most enjoyable moment of the play. It’s when he asks Rothko if he ever tires of lecturing (the first line of this review) and points out that Rothko is extremely self-indulgent. “The prentension,” Ken cries. “Jesus Christ, the pretension!”
But, as Rothko points out at another moment in the play; “It’s all about me. Everything here is about me.”
And so the play goes. It’s a fascinating window into Rothko’s soul, and yes, it’s fun to watch. I credit Sullivan, Mancini and Estrella with that (even though I said I wouldn’t use up space blabbing about how great the trio is).
So in the space I saved not writing about Mancini, Sullivan and Estrella, I’ll highlight these things: the beautiful set by Michael McGarty, the splendid costumes by Marilyn Salvatore and Sullivan’s commitment to shave off the top of his thick, full head of hair for the sake of recreating Rothko’s appearance.
Red runs at the Sandra Feinstein Gamm Theatre in Pawtucket now through December 16. For tickets, call 732-4266 or visit www.gammtheatre.org.
An award-winning journalist and theater critic, and a performer at heart. Kim's talents have taken her from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in NY, to stages in Boston and Providence's own Trinity Repertory.