Stage Productions

Onyx’s ‘Red’ doesn’t get the shading quite right

Taylor Hanes, right, and Cory Goble star as painter Mark Rothko and his fictional assistant in Onyx Theatre’s Red.
Jacob Coakley

Three and a half stars

Red January 16-18, 23-25, 8 p.m.; January 19, 2 p.m.; $20. Onyx Theatre, 732-7225.

In what might be the most intellectual bromance of all time, the play Red by John Logan charts the relationship between Mark Rothko and his fictional assistant Ken while Rothko works on his famous “Seagram Murals” for the Four Seasons restaurant in midtown Manhattan. Poor Richard’s Players’ and Off-Strip Productions’ current production at the Onyx Theatre gets the colors right, but can’t quite make it pulse.

Taylor Hanes, playing Rothko, is magnetic early in the play. He’s intimidating and charismatic when explaining the rules of the job to Ken (played by Cory Goble), and Goble, for his part, is sufficiently awed, nervous and eager-to-impress. But both actors have a hard time moving beyond these initial poses, and the hypnotism fades. The play has some fairly profound things to say about the nature of age and art, but for these ideas in the play to truly spark to life, the relationship between Rothko and Ken must crackle. There’s a moment when the two artists prime a canvas together. It’s a funny, frenetic moment, but it doesn’t seem to have the climactic energy it should.

It’s a big moment, marking a turning in the relationship between the two artists—but it doesn’t elucidate their relationship in any significant way. Under Benjamin Loewy’s direction, the actors have definite feel for the tone of the play, but never completely translate those emotions into strong, specific actions. Instead, it seems like they get lost in the ideas and poetry of the script, and at times the ideas and backstory veer too close to declaiming.

Thomas Chrastka’s minimalist sound design haunts this play, channeling Rothko via Glass. And Anthony Barnaby’s projection design between scenes is similarly evocative—I only wish the crew had figured out a way to play the videos at the same time the scene changes were happening, to mask the stage business instead of making us wait for the crew to finish before beginning the video. In the end this production was tantalizingly close to being great, but didn’t quite get the shading right.

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