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PlayMakers’ season opens with ‘Red’

RED-- STEPHEN CAFFREY (bald/old) as Rothko and MATT GARNER (young) as Ken in they PlayMakers Repertory Company's production of "Red" by John Logan.

Stage lights stream through grimy windows onto an enormous easel, where two actors will paint a portrait of an artist’s struggle.

PlayMakers Repertory Company opens its 2012-13 main stage season tonight with “Red,” John Logan’s 2010 Tony Award winner for Best Play.

Set in the studio of abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko, the play depicts the timeless affliction of an artist caught between commercialism and his artistry.

During the play, Rothko hesitates between staying true to his art or selling out to paint murals for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York.

At Rothko’s side is his assistant Ken, a fictional amalgam of the several real-life assistants who worked with the artist.

vibrator play

Benesch, the daughter of an art dealer, said she was always fascinated by the art milieu, and she cites Rothko as one of her favorite painters.

Benesch said the main challenge of directing this play was translating Rothko’s notion that art only lives in its relationship with the viewer — admitting that she feels the same way about theater.

In “Red,” Benesch tries to investigate Rothko as a proud and difficult intellectual motivated by his passion for art.

Featured as the famed artist is Stephen Caffrey, who interprets Rothko as a man at a transitional point in his life, who is beginning to see the decline of his form of painting.

“This is one of the seminal scripts that comes along in an actor’s life,” Caffrey said.

Benesch said the play incorporates several types of relationships.

“It is a play about teachers and students, mentors and proteges and, in a Greek mythology sense, a play about fathers and sons,” she said.

Matt Garner, who portrays Ken, the artist’s assistant and mentee, said the father-son relationship initially drew him to the play.

Garner said Ken, a fusion of the celebrated artist’s many assistants, represents the next phase of the art world.

Caffrey interprets the play as the passing of the baton between teacher and student.

“‘Red’ is very much a play of doing as much as it is a play of ideas,” Benesch said.

The challenge to translate this into a performance was met by portraying the characters in the action of painting.

At a crucial moment in the play, teacher and student finally paint together on stage, after a built-up sequence of mixing the paint and preparing the canvases.

Benesch points to this particular scene as a metaphor for the play’s central relationship between Rothko and Ken.

It is a cathartic moment for the audience to engage in the act of artistic creation.

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“I’m so excited to hear this play with an audience,” Benesch said.

“My one wish is for the audience to come with their eyes, ears and hearts open.”

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