The American award-winning Oscar screenwriter John Logan for the films ‘The Aviator’ and ‘Gladiator’, made quite a stir in his play titled ‘Red’, when it was staged by Actor’s Actor, Inc. and The School of Design and Art of College of St. Benilde on February 22 and 23, March 1 and 2, respectively.
The said production brought together onstage two of Philippines’ finest performers—Bart Guingona as Mark Rothko and Joaquin Valdes as Ken, Rothko’s assistant.
Having both actors with different attacks on their respective highly intense characters made this theatre experience worth coming back again and again.
Guingona played the American painter, an abstract expressionist of Latvian Jewish descent very well—that the audience could feel his struggles of being left behind with the changing times; his being obsolesce. Though his art is closely identified for his love of theatre, which he referred to his paintings as ‘drama’ and his forms as ‘performers’—it can be remembered that in his works—he wanted to express basic human emotions such as conflicted, nuanced, troubled, diseased, doomed. Note that during his lifetime, his contemporaries were Jackson Pollock and de Kooning.
‘Red’ focused on the time when Rothko had his inner struggles with integrity when he’s offered a large commission to paint murals for an exclusive restaurant called Four Seasons by the eminent architect and art collector Philip Johnson. Though he labored for nearly two years before he got satisfied with the project—completed three sets of murals, which were viewed as progressively dark, ranging in color from orange and brown to maroon and black. Such colors can well reflect Rothko’s commitment not to be mediocre and non-committal to the art he has breathed into.
Powerfully, Guingona was successful in portraying melancholic painter, which is very similar to Van Gogh’s case—the artistic let-down that led to an eventual self-destruction and suicide. Valdes, on the other hand, though maybe twice as younger as Guingona, was not even left out. He also shines as the ‘imaginary’ or the ‘fictitious’ character that Logan created to dramatically sketch Rothko’s moods and roller-coaster of emotions while doing his commissioned work.
In this year’s BroadwayWorld.com Philippines Awards, both Guingona and Valdes would be forerunners as best actors.
Though a straight and two-actor play with no intermissions, both Guingona and Valdes glued its audience with their unforgettable moments; each has their engaging monologues and moments. The play simply tackled what it is to be a starving artist, committed to his craft without any compromise or indulging into profitable creativity.
If there will be reruns in the future, ‘Red’ deserves more play dates and allow its audience to realize what color best represents passion, and that is the last line of the play, where Rothko asked Ken, what he saw in the painting as the latter paused, prior to his leaving the scene: “I see red.”