Following completion of his June 2019 production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame at Prescott Center for the Arts, a successful mounting of RED in Flagstaff led Don Langford to pitch the show to PCA. He wanted to direct something more intimate with a smaller cast, and this show fit the ticket.
In John Logan’s 2010 Tony Award-winning play, two artists of different generations debate the role art plays in each of theirs. Known for his lightning-quick dialogue, says Langford, “John Logan offers a wonderful opportunity for seasoned actors to exercise their skills.”
The action takes place in Rothko’s New York City studio in the late 1950s. He has been commissioned to paint a series of murals for the famous Four Seasons restaurant, and is both supported and challenged in this process by Kenny as together they struggle with the principles of art and life.
Langford held auditions at the beginning of 2020, and the production process began. But about a week into the rehearsal process, PCA had to cancel most of its season while the world began waiting for the pandemic to pass. Little did they know how long that might take.
Langford and his two-man cast used the time as an opportunity to explore the characters in continuing weekly rehearsals since last February. At first they met in Langford’s kitchen and living room; as the seasons transitioned and more information about the coronavirus came into the public sphere, they began using his side yard.
The director says he feels the universe is unfolding as it should. “Covid has stopped a lot of artistic endeavors, but it has enhanced this one,” recounting how PCA veteran Bruce Thomson and newcomer Keegan Hughes as Mark Rothko and Kenny have been able to deep-dive into the characters and build a solid connection. “Real life has put a stamp on the relationship of the actors,” extending to bonding time outside rehearsals, including a trip together to the Phoenix Art Museum.
This in some ways mirrors the relationship of the characters. “As the paintings develop, so does their relationship, layer on layer,” says Langford, quoting the script, “like pentimento, letting the luminescence emerge until it’s done.” “The power of this production is in the discourse between them, just as the power of art is in the relationship between the experiencer and the experience, whether it’s a painting or a play.”
Asked what the show's biggest challenge has been, beyond the pandemic, of course, he says that directing a two-person play has pushed his practice of patience: “I’m a let’s-get- it-done worker. … To slow down the process and
be more cerebral about it has been a change for me.”
Langford speaks highly of the script. “The writing is so rich and dynamic,” he says, in asking, “How do we value art? How is art viewed? What is good art, and what isn’t?”
First produced in 2009, RED will be particularly attractive to visual artists and younger audiences for “its relationship between mentor and mentee,” promises Langford.
“The purpose of art, whether music, drama or visual, is to evoke a heartfelt response,” says Rothko in the play. “I am here to stop your heart! I am here to make you think! I am not here to make pretty pictures!”