In John Logan's play Red, a bio-drama about the abstract painter Mark Rothko (1903-70), the very first line is, "What do you see?" The artist, staring at his painting, is speaking to his assistant, the only other character in this Tony Award-winning work. The Broadway version six years ago starred Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne, respectively. This week in Montpelier, Lost Nation Theater launches its own production, with LNT cofounding artistic director Kim Allen Bent as the intense and uncompromising Rothko and Levi Penley as his assistant, Ken.
That first line is apt for a play that the New York Times called a "visceral exercise in art appreciation" in a 2010 review. Accordingly, Lost Nation — in collaboration with Stowe's Helen Day Art Center and curator Rachel Moore — is giving theatergoers more to see. In the lobby, seven paintings by Middlesex artist Galen Cheney will set the tone for the show's theme.
"We have had a gallery in the lobby for the past several years," notes Kathleen Keenan, LNT's cofounder and producing artistic director. "It started as a showcase for the work of our designers — some have a double life as visual artists." From there, she continues, the gallery presented other artists in the community. But this is the first time LNT has worked with an outside gallery.
As it happens, Keenan says, Cheney's exhibit and Red dovetail with an upcoming solo show of paintings by New York abstract artist Pat Steir at Helen Day, which opens June 17.
Cheney and Moore will be on hand this Saturday night, June 4, before the play to talk about her work — and, perhaps by extension, about the demanding artist vision that drove Rothko.
The original print version of this article was headlined "Seeing Red"