The million-dollar question in Park Square Theater’s Red is, “What do you see?” It’s an innocent-sounding question, but the way one answers says everything about him or her. Well, after immersing myself in the world of painter Mark Rothko (played fantastically by J.C. Cutler) for the almost two-hour production, I’m more than willing to tell you what I saw: superb acting, a rich set, and raw emotion.
The play, which opened Friday, September 21, has already received high praise from theater critics across the board, and for good reason. Red shows Cutler at his finest, working the stage as only he can. Rothko was a finicky, unpredictable, celebrated New American Painting artist who won over the country in the 1940s and ’50s with his neo-surrealist style. Every moment Cutler is on stage, he is fully invested, whether he’s screaming, crying, reminiscing, or simply standing in silence.
In Red, playwright John Logan takes a stab at what Rothko might have been going through while working on the first of the three mural commissions that would dominate the last years of his life: paintings for the Four Seasons restaurant on Park Avenue. Logan places an assistant, Ken (played by the ever-improving Steven Lee Johnson), into the picture, and the drama that unfolds between the two artists plays out precisely as one might imagine might take place between two creative types stuck inside a windowless warehouse. They bicker over favorite painters, bond over the painting process, grow together through shared stories, and fight so viciously you’re afraid they’re about to murder each other. It’s a pure, heartfelt performance by both men, and the emotions displayed can only be described as genuine.
One cannot feign chemistry, and the interaction between Cutler and Johnson in Red feels as real as any father-son relationship, be it by blood or by circumstance. If for no other reason than to see what truly good acting looks like, go see this show. You won’t regret it.
Through Sunday, October 7
Park Square Theater, 20 W. Seventh Place, St. Paul, 651-291-7005