Seeing Red

Alfred Molina Brings Rothko to the London Stage

Did Mark Rothko make a fatal mistake by turning down an opportunity to paint the murals in New York’s famed Four Seasons restaurant? That’s the premise of John Logan’s new London show, Red. The play, which just opened at the Donmar Warehouse, features heated conversations between Rothko (Molina), and his studio assistant, Ken (Eddie Redmayne), who has a powerful story of his own. Over the two years that the play unfolds from 1958 to 1959, Rothko struggles with his desire to express the darkness of the human condition—despair and doom, void and oblivion. He famously said that he wanted his art to “put all the rich bastards dining there off their food.” After dining at the elegant restaurant at the end of 1959, however, Rothko decides he cannot continue on his mission and instead returns the $35,000 he was paid. Logan suggests that in accepting the commission, Rothko was forced to both admit and confront the limits of his abilities, leading to a period of progressively darker and darker work until he commited suicide in 1970.