Sunday, February 19, 2012

Maltz Jupiter Theatre: RED (4 reviews)

The Maltz Jupiter Theatre opened its production of John Logan's RED on February 12, 2012.
It is the late 1950s and Mark Rothko, the famous Abstract Expressionist painter, is at a crossroads in his career. Intellectual, controlling and often bombastic, Rothko is at work on a surprising (and very well-paid) commission: a series of murals to hang at the Four Seasons restaurant in Midtown Manhattan's Seagram's Building.

The action follows the artist's struggle for integrity and understanding in the face of fame, self-questioning and impending irrelevance. Will his paintings survive in a place that represents everything - greed, commercialism, bourgeois comfort - he detests?
Lou Jacob directed Mark Zeisler and JD Taylor.

John Lariviere wrote for Talkin' Broadway;
Mark Zeisler seems a bit stilted in the first scene as he attempts to handle Rothko's style of speech when discussing philosophies and concepts of art. His delivery becomes more connected and believable as the play progresses, but there are times when he lets the scripted words precede the thought and passion, which should motivate their delivery. He provides nice contrast in his character's calm versus agitated moments.
JD Taylor brings a tentative, almost boyish quality to the role of Ken. His nearly nervous energy plays beautifully against the utter confidence of Zeisler's Rothko.
The set for this production at the Maltz is well executed, though more attention could have been paid to the manipulation of lighting and its effect on the appearance of color and texture. Some scene transitions ran a bit long on the night attended as they are implemented by just the actors on stage. While the show has a crisp pace, a few staging issues could have been tweaked by cleaner direction... With just some minor flaws, this production is a worthy if weighty piece about a fascinating artist.
Hap Erstein reviewed for Palm Beach ArtsPaper:
With such emotional turmoil, Rothko is a terrific acting assignment and, at the Maltz, Mark Zeisler does it justice, conveying the hot-tempered and bullheaded man, while suggesting the artistic soul beneath the surface. Ken is the more enigmatic, understated part, but he is crucial to the duet that is the evening. JD Taylor impresses, ably making the transition from empty vessel to his own man, as he attacks back, biting the hand of his master.

Red is a major departure from the Maltz’s usual menu of mainstream musicals, but it is another milestone in it becoming a major regional theater.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Red... debuted regionally at GableStage in November... The earlier production and the new one differ in intriguing ways, yet both illuminate Logan’s thought-provoking examination of a complex artist and his fervent beliefs about his work.
Staged by Lou Jacob, the Maltz production is scaled more like the Broadway Red, so the play has a dramatic visual impact in the large proscenium space. Set designer James Kronzer’s version of Rothko’s Bowery studio, a former gymnasium with its high windows draped to shut out the cruel invasion of daylight, is a detailed visual feast. Gina Sherr’s exquisite lighting design illustrates Rothko’s points about the transformative power of light as its changing colors and intensity makes the same massive painting look unremarkably dull or vibrantly, mysteriously alive.

Taylor, in many ways, has the easier acting task in Red, if only because Ken gets to take an emotional journey from eager insecurity to rebellious confidence. Zeisler goes with Rothko’s bullying bluster and roiling anger, pretty much riding that wave start to finish. His performance would benefit from finding more places to embrace the contemplative part of the artist’s process, the more subtle hues of Red.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
...having seen three editions, including this strong,
thought-stimulating production at the Maltz, whets the appetite to
collect versions of Red, seeing how this director or that actor
find different colors to emphasize in Logan’s play. None of the three
productions resemble the other except in the broadest strokes.
Director Lou Jacob’s clear vision here, executed by Mark Zeisler as the abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko and JD Taylor as his young assistant/acolyte, favors passion as its primary color.

Ideas, philosophies and debates may explode profligately from Logan’s script, but they are driven by an emotional energy that gushes out over the Maltz stage like bright red paint spewing out of burst water main, to mix a few metaphors
Zeisler is impressively forceful and vibrant from the opening moments, even in thoughtful repose. He creates a fanatic living completely inside and for his Art. Rothko/Zeisler never says it directly, but his every utterance screams that for him life is art, and art is life. Literally. Like crimson hemoglobin.
Taylor, who has a winning persona, clearly illustrates Ken’s internal growth without hammering at it. He and Jacob deserve credit for allowing Ken to really push back and challenge the master – and to make it credible.
The Maltz edition isn’t perfect. Zeisler really only has two modes – bombastic and titanic. He does both very well, but the bombastic begins to sound a little monochromatic after a while. He also needs to drill himself on his lines a little, just so this torrent flows out a little smoother. But when he erupts into one of those ragged rages that were George C. Scott’s glory, you want to back up a few feet for fear some of his volcanic lava is going to spill over on you.
Inescapably enhancing the environment is the evocative and endlessly imaginative lighting design by Gina Sherr. She often washes the studio with a half-light as if we are in a protective womb with underscoring lighting shifts so subtle that only theater professionals will notice them. Other times she ostentatiously paints the stage with intentionally artistic arrangements such as illuminating only a canvas and throwing the contemplative artist into silhouette.
RED plays at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre through February 26, 2012.

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