November 22, 2012

Drama paints life of Mark Rothko


---- — MONTREAL — Prepare for a “brush” stroke of genius.

Beginning Sunday, the Segal Centre presents “Red,” the six-time Tony Award-winning drama that tells of two years in the life of New York abstract-expressionist artist Mark Rothko.

Set in 1958, Rothko has hired a young assistant to help him with his latest commissioned work, a series of murals to be painted for another icon, New York City’s Seagram’s Building on Park Avenue, specifically for the Four Seasons Restaurant.

“The play follows the relationship with his assistant as well as enters into the descriptions of his work, the meaning behind these paintings and how Rothko wanted these works to be looked at and viewed,” said actor Randy Hughson, who plays the lead role.

Hughson said that much of the sentiment deals with Rothko’s “frustrations” with the art world.

“The play has inherent tension to it,” Hughson said. “Rothko struggled between art and commerce. And he railed at the bourgeoisie.”

In fact, Wikipedia even offers some insight into Rothko’s creative process while painting the murals. According to the website, at the time of the commission, Rothko was quoted as saying that he secretly resolved to create “something that will ruin the appetite of every son-of-a-bitch who ever eats in that room.”

Hughson said that today Rothko would probably be “astounded that his works would sell for $40 (million) or $50 million.”

Hughson said the work is not all deep-rooted intensity.

“There’s levity and lightness to it as well,” he said. “But a lot of the play deals with Rothko’s frustration with the outside world, which gets communicated through teaching his philosophy and psychology to his young assistant.”

Rothko eventually committed suicide a few years after the play is set.

“So we see this character living and thriving in his environment as well as his fear and frustration outside of the studio,” Hughson said.

To prepare for the role, Hughson picked up his own brush to create a realistic setting. He and actor Jesse Aaron Dwyre, who plays the assistant, Ken, took a crash course in art class, learning how to hold a brush and prepare a canvas.

“The challenge was to work moment to moment and make these scenes come alive,” Hughson said. “And this role is just a gift for an actor to play.”

“Red” makes its Montreal premiere Sunday, Nov. 25, and runs through Sunday, Dec. 16.

In conjunction with the play, the Segal Centre has teamed up with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and McGill University for some special events.

The Segal Theatre presents “Seeing RED: Rothko and Theatricality,” an informal and informative discussion on the works of Rothko as seen in the play. The event is hosted by Anne Grace, the curator of modern art at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, at 11 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 25, at the Segal Centre.

In addition, McGill University hosts “Art in Colour — Painting and Theatre” at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3, in the Arts Building, 853 Sherbrooke St. W., room 160. With a focus on Rothko, the workshop explores how “artists and playwrights use color to awake the senses, ignite complex feelings and provoke critical thinking about art and the world,” according to a press release. It’s co-hosted by Grace and Paul Yachnin, the Tomlinson professor of Shakespeare Studies and director of the Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas at McGill University. 

Steven Howell is the author of Montreal Essential Guide, a Sutro Media iPhone travel app available at

IF YOU GO WHAT: "Red." WHEN: Sunday, Nov. 25, through Sunday, Dec. 16. WHERE: The Segal Centre for Performing Arts is at 5170 Chemin Cote St. Catherine, Montreal. Take Autoroute 15 North (I-87 after the border), and continue over the Champlain Bridge. Take exit 66, Cote St. Luc/Queen Mary, and continue on the Decarie Expressway service road for about five minutes. Turn right on Chemin Cote Ste. Catherine. The Segal Centre is two blocks on the right. ADMISSION: Adult tickets range from $36 to $46. Discounts are available for seniors and students. CONTACT: Call (514) 739-7944 or visit