Meet the Rogue

Live theater. Unsolicited commentary.
From Detroit to Lansing.

Carolyn Hayes is the Rogue Critic, est. late 2009.

In 2011, the Rogue attended 155 plays, readings, and festivals (about 3 per week) and penned 115 reviews (about 2.2 per week).

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Theaters and Companies

The Abreact (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2011 SIR

The AKT Theatre Project (Wyandotte)
website | reviews

Blackbird Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Detroit Repertory Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

The Encore Musical Theatre Co. (Dexter)
website | reviews

Go Comedy! (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Hilberry Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Jewish Ensemble Theatre (West Bloomfield)
website | reviews

Magenta Giraffe Theatre Co. (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Matrix Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Meadow Brook Theatre (Rochester)
website | reviews

Performance Network Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews

Planet Ant Theatre (Hamtramck)
website | reviews

Plowshares Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

Purple Rose Theatre Co. (Chelsea)
website | reviews

The Ringwald Theatre (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Tipping Point Theatre (Northville)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Threefold Productions (Ypsilanti)
website | reviews

Two Muses Theatre (West Bloomfield Township)
website | reviews

Williamston Theatre (Williamston)
website | reviews







« The Altruists | Main | Avenue Q »


Red imagines the painter Mark Rothko (Mark Rademacher) near the commercial peak of his career, through the foil of a hired assistant, Ken (Kevin Young). The Performance Network Theatre production is the Michigan premiere of John Logan’s Tony Award–winning script. Under director Carla Milarch and assistant director/designer Monika Essen, this saturated production examines art and philosophy in a fine character portrait, but its underlying study of theater as art form is its secret masterpiece.

Numerous Essen designs have been Performance Network favorites, so those familiar with her work will hardly register surprise that Rothko’s studio is a tactile paradise. What makes the setting superlative is that it is a living, breathing entity: donning new paint spatters and spills as real as the existing ones, housing fully stocked supplies in logical places and miscellany in thoughtless built-up piles, eating up Justin Lang’s brutal-contrast lighting scheme in all its forms. A visual artist herself, Essen’s role as assistant director provides a hint as to the lived-in feel of the studio in action; the performers’ thorough proficiency with the tools of the craft, to say nothing of their absolutely unconscious familiarity with every object in the room, is an essential component of the production’s success. The text of the play lives in rich theory and passionate language, but a dirty fork wiped on a pant leg is engrossing on another level. Although most of the scenes concern scrutiny and discussion of works at various stages of completion, or low-level prep and cleanup, the artists do put paint to canvas, in one astounding wordless scene enhanced by Will Myers’s lyrical sound design.

The men’s professional relationship is followed through 1958 and 1959, but as the topic of conversation rarely leaves the studio, the rigors of time passing lose their grip on the story. In an echo of Rothko’s vivid expressionist works, the play is less concerned with the end product (in this case, story resolution) and more with evocation and craftsmanship — it’s not about an artist, but rather a voyage into artistry itself. Rademacher and Young comply by plunging into their performances with gusto, cultivating moments together out of dust particles and breath and holding them up to the light like the gems they are. Young brings a pliable open mind to the character of Ken, setting aside the specifics of his own life in order to absorb everything he can, trying on and embracing or rejecting Rothko’s philosophies with exquisite subtlety.

Rademacher answers his assistant’s supplication with a presence to be reckoned with, a lion among the lionized. His supercilious proclamation, his blustery unconcern, his revulsion of popularity and the people who follow it, his accumulated dependence on relevance and fame — the actor maps out every complex facet of the character and arranges it into a single majestic being. Yet however deeply immersed in these vibrant personas, the performers are always operating on another level; the discerning viewer may pick up on small conspiratorial exchanges passed between the two actors that complement the moment, but also underline the greater notion of creating a play.

Despite savoring its beats of mundanity and inaction, this Red’s 90-minute single act feels like a breathless instant in the presence of greatness. Much like a piece of visual art, the final image is only part of the picture, with much more to be appreciated by studying how it’s made. In the same vein, viewers will get out of the play what they put into it; the reward is in the interpretation.

Red is no longer playing.
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