You’ll certainly be seeing ‘Red’

Olson, left and Derrah go into the “Red.”

Experiencing SpeakEasy Stage Company’s stellar production of “Red” feels much like looking at a great piece of art.

Initially, Thomas Derrah’s tour-de-force performance gets all the credit for the immensely engaging piece. But the more you think about it (and you will), the more you appreciate the subtle nuances necessary to create this masterpiece.

There’s no denying the brilliance of Derrah’s portrayal of aging artist Mark Rothko. The local stage veteran’s embodiment of the arrogant, irascible artist on the verge of the biggest payday of his career is so complete he’s almost unrecognizable. With little more than gestures and movement, Derrah captures the artist’s brilliant, tortured essence with haunting authenticity.

Given the grand scale of his performance, it’s easy to overlook the equally impressive work of Karl Baker Olson as fledgling artist and Rothko assistant Ken. While Ken seems to be steamrolled by Rothko’s big, angry presence, hindsight is both his and Olson’s greatest ally. His one-word answer to Rothko’s final question about what he sees opens up a world of possibilities for the true dynamic of their relationship.

Baker’s roll-over-and-play-dead delivery may make you think his character is weak and victimized, but, like a great piece of art, if you keep looking at it, you’ll be amazed at both Ken and Olson. Let your imagination transcend obvious discussions about artists spending countless hours staring at blank canvases or art as commerce.

There’s a much more fascinating story waiting to be discovered underneath the pretty picture and snarky intellectual asides of “Red.” Director David Gammons and a tremendously impressive creative team leave it all on the stage for you to enjoy. Don’t be afraid to look at it.

If you go
   
‘Red’

Through Feb. 4
Calderwood Pavilion at Boston Center for
the Arts
527 Tremont St., Boston
$25-$55, 617-933-8600
www.speakeasystage.com

Plot:
It’s 1958 and abstract expressionist painter    Mark Rothko has been
commissioned to create a series of murals for the new Four Seasons
Restaurant in New York. He hires an assistant for the project and the
duo engage in a two-year master class of sorts in which both learn
valuable life lessons.

Director: David Gammons has said he
refused to see any other productions of “Red” before putting up the
production with SpeakEasy.


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