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Brandeis Theater Company’s performance ‘Red’ enamours

By Amanda Ehrmann

Section: Arts

November 13, 2015

What do you think of when you see the color red? Roses? The blood from a nick from a shaving accident? I think of Brandeis Theater Company’s production of “Red” by John Logan, directed by Zach Marlin ’16 as his senior thesis project. I could honestly say this was the most professional and poised production I have seen by an undergraduate at Brandeis. It was well rehearsed, polished and there were no technical mishaps or actor mistakes.

It helped that Professor Alex Jacobs (THA) played the role of Mark Rothko, the troubled artist attempting to grapple with the fact that he was compromising the attention and thought his art deserved for money from a commission. Jacobs’ performance was stunning. His character covered up his insecurities with profound monologues about art and artists. Jacobs took up as much room as possible in an attempt to express his passion and protect his authority over his artwork.

The choice to pick an adult to play Rothko was an excellent one. Jacobs was around the same age as his character, and it added a touch of truth that is usually missing from university productions when students are the only options to play older characters.

The performance of undergraduate actor Rodrigo Alfaro Garcia Granados ’18 did not fall short next to Jacobs’. Granados played Rothko’s all-too-eager assistant, Ken. His performance was equally as passionate as Jacobs’, although Granados is less experienced and younger. He maintained intense energy throughout his performance even though his character had less intense, emotional moments at the beginning of the play. Even when Granados looked around the room, the audience was captivated. His acting extended to his fingertips. He was able to manifest his energy into the nervousness that Ken experiences on his first day of work.

The truth in this performance stemmed from the fact that it was realistic. Granados did not just mime stapling and prepping a canvas, but instead actually did prepare a new canvas each performance. Director Marlin revealed that the production worked on a low budget, which made the feat even more impressive. Although the budget was small, there were realistic props, including Chinese food that Rothko fervently ate, buckets of paint that Ken mixed to the perfect shade and cigarettes that blew a smoke substitute. Although it seems obvious that props should be used fully and realistically, I’ve seen many productions where they are not. This includes a professional production of “Red” where the canvas had clearly already been stapled from previous performances.

The play began as Ken entered Rothko’s home studio and began to look around. Rothko asked him, “What do you see?” Jacobs was perfectly positioned so that the audience could not see him, but Granados could. Jacob was on the balcony in the Merrick Theater, an excellent use of space. This blocking established Rothko simultaneously as an expert and authority figure, as well as a closed-off mystery. Granados then focused just above the audience’s head where the picture was. This positioning cued the audience in about how this play was a study of humans and human nature. The position of the audience at the same level as the actors felt like an encroachment on their personal life, and it was, as the characters gradually opened up.

There were other particularly beautiful and shocking directorial choices that enhanced the mentor-student relationship of Ken and Rothko. During an early scene Rothko talked about studying his work while Ken watched him. Rothko’s obsession with art mirrored Ken’s fascination with Rothko. These focal points allowed the audience to recognize these relationships. Ken also imitated Rothko’s pre-painting motions like running the brush along his hand. This again emphasized that Ken’s obsession was with Rothko, figuring him out and seeking his approval. An additional moment occurred when Rothko and Ken pondered if “these paintings still pulsate when they are alone?” They poetically compared visual art to a stage and demonstrated how, without the right eye or viewer, paintings are “like an operating theater.” And when you “turn on the light, there is nothing but a bare stage with walls.” As the characters spoke about this, Granados turned on the light in the theater, completely ruining the effect of the theater to the audience. Without the colored lights and dark, traditional theater setting it proved difficult for the audience to fall for the illusion of the stage, which is parallel to the illusion that art creates.

As the play progressed, Ken was able to find his confidence and point out Rothko’s hypocrisy in going against what he believes. In turn, Rothko fired him; however it was not vindictive. Rothko clearly believed Ken had his own important life outside of being his assistant.

I have to give a standing ovation to Marlin and the whole cast and crew. The production was extremely polished and on a different level from the theater I have seen here in my past two years.

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