5 km/h

Review: Magnus’ presentation of Red a sophisticated surprise

By Linda Maehans, for /live

What do you see? Seems a simple enough question, doesn’t it?

But not so simple when asked by an artist whose life experiences and privately complicated outlook on the world preclude easy answers.

Magnus’ presentation of the Tony-winning drama Red by John Logan is a sophisticated surprise of a play. A surprise because not everyone can or would want to think about something as fundamental as colour, or light, in abstract terms.

Sure, we all perceive bright hues and the nuances of colour all around us all the time – thanks to the principles of light and the optics of our eyes.

People who at some point have lost their vision can still think about colour in their memories. Those born blind?

We wonder are they perhaps best able to imagine colour in the abstract.

In Red, thanks to a talented pair of actors on a stage illuminated for us in surprising ways, such not-so-everyday considerations are brought vividly into focus.

Mark Weatherley confidently and convincingly picks up the real-life palette and brushes of Jewish immigrant artist Mark Rothko; we meet Weatherley’s character in his New York City studio in his 50s.

The painter is working on a lucrative commission, but he isn’t happy about that. Neither does he seem very happy to have a new assistant.

Yet another surprise for the audience, as personalities and the bents of successive generations begin to emerge.

For awhile it seems we primarily encounter Weatherley’s self-absorbed self-indulgent Rothko and, at least with this reviewer, we begin to tire because this character is so demandingly intense.

We don’t want to hear about his deepening inner blackness. Even if it also happens to be the colour of blood we wish the artist would stick with the primary life force hue of red. We can see his new assistant does.

Jordan Campbell makes his debut on Magnus’ stage in a wonderful burst of crimson youth, so to speak. Campbell’s Ken is genuine; intelligent; passionate; we instinctively like him.

As mentioned, we may have started to find the older Rothko tediously set in his thoughts, abstractas those are. So, another welcome surprise and how energizing when Campbell’s character finally confronts the older artist’s seeming pretentiousness with ideas that with most of us ring more true. In this scene Campbell absolutely shines.

One more surprise – in this storyline the artist appears ever so slightly to acquiesce.

Be energized by the compelling, thought-provoking drama of Red; in future it may have you looking at art in a whole new light. Playing at Magnus until March 29.

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