Theatre Mirror Reviews -"Red"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Richard Pacheco

at the Gamm Theater

Reviewed by Richard Pacheco

The Gamm Theater’s current production of John Logan’s Tony Award winning “Red” is relentless, compelling and eminently fascinating. It concerns a fictionalized account of eminent painter Mark Rothko’s attempt to create a space in the Four Seasons Restaurant where viewers could truly interact with his artwork in a contemplative manner. This two person play is propelled by the endearing and masterful performances of Fred Sullivan Jr. as Mark Rothko and Mark Dante Mancini as his assistant. This is extraordinary theater that amuses, provokes and haunts throughout. It grabs hold of you and never lets go as you watch the squirming antics of the depressed, yet funny Rothko and his assistant as they go at it and develop a vibrant relationship between them, part father and son, part mentor and pupil part friends.

Fred Sullivan Jr. is compelling as Rothko, a man beset by huge doubts and relentless passion for his art and getting it to the viewers in a way that impacts their lives indelibly. Mr. Sullivan’s Rothko is a man who changes like a chameleon, one moment rash, brash and egotistical as well as eccentric to the next, compassionate and insightful. This is a complex, troubled character that Mr. Sullivan brings vividly to life. It is Mr. Sullivan’s first appearance onstage at the Gamm, but he is a longtime Trinity Rep actor and director at the Gamm.

Marc Dante Mancini is his perfect foil as Ken, his assistant. Ken is a student artist, thrilled to be working with the legendary abstract expressionist painter. This too is a highly complex character, beset by doubts and ambitions, wanting to succeed, yet not wanting to offend his employer. Mr. Mancini creates a fine mixture of student uncertainty and awe with an underlying desire to understand and zealous exploration of the nature of art. It is a deft performance, truthful and energetic.

Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Mancini create a kinetic chemistry onstage between each other. There is so much energy here, intellectual, emotional and artistic that it never fails to enlighten and charm even the midst of enraged outbursts.

Together they do a deft dance of passion and energy, discussing art and life with equal verve and vigor. They are somehow inexorably tied to each other, both repelled and attracted to each other’s intellect and artistic passion. Rothko is the well established mentor, the legend to Ken’s fledgling artist full of hopes and dreams as well as artistic ambition while battling with his difficult and emotional past. Underlying it all is Rothko facing his greatest artistic challenge, murals for the Four Seasons Restaurant in the new Seagram’s Building while being threatened by the emerging new generation of artists coming up to challenge his authority and accomplishments.

“Red” is a vibrant, ardent ride into the meaning between art and its viewer, between an older generation of artists and the one that replaces it and between artist and assistant. As Rothko points out, “first you must respect them, then kill them” when it comes to artists succeeding their predecessors.

The play is also an enthralling and inexorable dialogue about art and those who make art. It is articulate and intelligent, fuelled by energy and sincerity. As Rothko points out in the play, “I am here to stop your heart. I am here to make you think. I am not here to make pretty pictures.” They play makes you think, often breathlessly. It creates a vivid portrait of an artist in the act of art, which drives his life forward.

It is highly memorable and permeates the mind and heart with indelible precision and zest. It is a must see production.

Director Tony Estrella keeps it all flawlessly on track, by turns funny and passionate, full of energy and vigor.

The set by Michael McGarty is rich and a vivid recreation of an artists studio. The Marilyn Salvatore costumes are right on the mark. The light design by David Roy is impeccable.

It will be presented until Dec. 16 at the Gamm Theatre, 172 Exchange Street, Pawtucket, RI. Tickets are $36 to $45 depending on time/day. Discounts for groups of ten or more, seniors and students. Tickets at 401-723-4266 or

"Red" (till 16 December)
@ 172 Exchange Street, PAWTUCKET RI

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide