Jim Mezon and David Coomber. Photo by Bruce Zinger

The Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company, in co-production with Canadian Stage and The Citadel Theatre, will present Red from January 14 to February 2. This stark and passionate production explores the life and work of celebrated Abstract Expressionist painter Mark Rothko in his struggle to create a masterpiece in the face of fame, fortune, and commercialism.

Written by Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and playwright John Logan (Gladiator, The Aviator) and directed by Electric Company Theatre’s Artistic associate director Kim Collier (Studies in Motion), Red introduces audiences to the compelling artist Mark Rothko and his young assistant, Ken.

Jim Mezon and David Coomber. Photo by Bruce Zinger
[Jim Mezon and David Coomber]

Set in his studio in the late 1950s, the play is a fictionalized account of one of Rothko’s historic artistic commissions: to create a series of murals for the new Four Seasons restaurant inside New York City’s Seagram Building. As he paints, Rothko begins to question the project he’s committed to as well as his role as an artist. When he sees that his great commission will reduce his paintings to being merely decorative rather than transformative, he confronts this new truth through a visceral and passionate debate of ideas, art, and relevance.

A self-taught painter, Rothko is considered a pioneer of the Abstract Expressionist style of painting. In the early 1950s, Rothko was heralded, together with Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and others as the standard bearers of the New American Painting, Abstract Expressionism.

David Coomber and Jim Mezon. Photo by Bruce Zinger
[David Coomber and Jim Mezon]

At the Rothko’s peak of fame (late 1950s), he’d developed a signature style that featured two or three rectangles floating in fields of colour, dubbed the “multiform colour field technique” by art historians and critics. Painting the Seagram Murals was at the time the largest sum of money offered to an artist.

The infamous Seagram Murals marked a high point in Rothko’s career as well as a personal turning point for the eccentric artist. What could have been the highlight of his career was instead a source of inner turmoil as Rothko worried about the value of his artistic integrity. Not content with the idea of his art being used as mere decoration in a restaurant, Rothko ultimately rejected the Four Seasons as a suitable venue to hold his collection – a tribute to both his temperament and his artistic ideals. The Seagram Murals now hang at the Tate Museum in London.


Venue: Vancouver Playhouse Theatre, Hamilton at Dunsmuir Streets
Dates: January 14 to February 2, 2012
Tickets: $33 to $59, available online, by phone (604. 873. 3311), or in person at the Vancouver Playhouse Box Office (Hamilton and Dunsmuir)

Special performances

Audio Description: Friday, January 27 at 8 pm is audio described for those visually impaired. Audio description begins 15 minutes prior to the performance.
Salon Saturday: There will be a pre-show talk on Saturday, January 28 at 1 pm. Guest speakers Stephen Atkins and Marcus Bowcott from Capilano University.
Pay-what-you-can-matinee: Saturday, January 21 at 2 pm

Photos courtesy of Bruce Zinger.

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