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Like Rothko's paintings, Red makes strong demands on the viewer

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Red opened last weekend at Curious Theatre Company. We'll publish a full review in the next Westword -- but Juliet Wittman was so impressed with the production, she provided this sneak preview:

John Logan's Red is a two-hander about painter Mark Rothko. The year is 1958, and he has been commissioned to create a group of paintings for Philip Johnson and Mies van der Rohe's Seagram Building, to be exhibited in the Four Seasons restaurant.

In the play, Rothko has hired an assistant, an aspiring young artist. Ken is suitably awed by the master, arriving in a suit and tie, desperately trying to come up with the right answers to Rothko's penetrating and often ill-tempered questions, most important among them: What does Ken see when he looks at the painting Rothko is working on?

The early part of Red is a lesson in how to look at art - or at least art like Rothko's, pulsations of color, vibrating reds balanced by floating black frame-like shapes, art that's torn from the creator's soul yet from which the creator has deliberately absented himself. But what we're getting is more than a fascinating lecture. It is also a glimpse into the psyche of an obsessed genius, a troubled human being, a solipsist for whom nothing outside his mind and art really exists.

For a long time Rothko overwhelms poor Ken, who pours coffee, cleans up, fetches Chinese food, endures rages that arise as pointlessly and unexpectedly as summer storms, considers bringing his own work to Rothko's attention but thinks the better of it, and comes to understand Rothko's petty jealousies and his deepest fears - that the work is insufficient, that the black in his paintings will eventually overwhelm the red, that his time in the limelight is over and younger talents will surpass him as he surpassed those who went before.

Finally, Ken calls Rothko on his narcissism and suggests that his portentous, heavy-spirited work isn't the only valid form of art. "Sometimes," he says, "you just want a fucking still life." Like Rothko's paintings, Red makes strong demands on the viewer. And repays them in full.

Presented by Curious Theatre Company through June 16, with performances at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, at 1080 Acoma Street. For ticket information, call 303-623-0524 or go to www.curioustheatre.org.

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