In ’Red,’ Fred Sullivan Jr. Gets Under Mark Rothko’s Skin
John Logan's "Red" won the 2010 Tony Award for Best Play, then quickly became one of the most performed plays in regional theater. Currently this passionate play about the celebrated abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko continues at the GAMM Theatre through Dec 16.
"Red" captivated Broadway audiences with its masterful exploration into the soul of an artist, spanning grief and despair, ecstasy and hope. Set in NYC in the late 1950s, Logan's two-person play fictionalizes Rothko's artistic and emotional journey as he creates a series of highly lucrative murals commissioned for the Four Seasons, then Manhattan's newest, most exclusive restaurant.
Gamm Artistic Director Tony Estrella oversees a fierce battle of wills between Rothko (Fred Sullivan Jr.) and his assistant, Ken (Marc Dante Mancini), amidst a feverish collision of canvas and paint.
"Red is a relentless, searing play about the why and how of art, which is to say the making of meaning in a world without purpose. It is a ruthless, exultant celebration of human creativity and its necessity to our understanding of who we are," Estrella said.
"John Logan has ripped Rothko from the museum wall and brought him to ferocious life on the stage. I cannot think of a better actor to embody the great painter's explosiveness and deep sensitivity than Fred Sullivan who, after 15 years as a resident director, is making his on-stage Gamm debut."
Sullivan, who has appeared in 110 plays at Providence’s Trinity Repertory Company and directed 22 plays at Gamm, was thrilled to take on the role of Rothko.
Sullivan calls Red "one of the most profound, moving, and interesting plays I’ve come across in a long, long time."
"Everybody called me over the past two years and said: ’you’ve got to play this part, it’s perfect for you’," Sullivan continued. "Tony Estrella got the rights and basically said: ’I can’t do it without you’."
Sullivan spent a year and a half doing research for the role. Rothko is a complex character with many dimensions, Sullivan noted.
Rothko is a "titan," Sullivan said. "A larger than life, life force. He’s huge in his passion for the painters who came before him and his responsibility to be an artist. He’s witty, he’s bullying, he’s profound, he’s serious. (Rothko) reminds me of a lot of men I knew when I was an apprentice. He’s a force of nature."
Tribute to Rothko
"Red" features only two characters, which Sullivan considers one of the best two character plays he has ever encountered.
"John Logan felt that the perfect tribute to Rothko would be to do a play that does what (his) paintings do: which is to have two figures who have symbiosis and conflict, so it’s very much a father/son or a teacher/student relationship," Sullivan said. "I absolutely love the play, and I love the fact that it’s a two-character play."
Sullivan is also excited to be acting for the first time on the Gamm stage. He was cast in Trinity Rep’s upcoming production of "A Christmas Carol" but asked to be released from that obligation when Estrella offered him the lead role in "Red."
Sullivan is appreciative of the support he received from the staff of Trinity Rep. when he decided to take the part of Mark Rothko.
"It’s a very personal play, it’s incredibly passionate," Sullivan said. "I would put it on my list of favorite roles."
"Red" runs from Nov. 8 through Dec. 16 at The Gamm Theatre, 172 Exchange St., Pawtucket, RI. Tickets: $36 and $45 (depending on day/time); preview and press performances (Nov. 8-12) just $26. Discounts for subscribers, groups of 10 or more, seniors and students. Tickets at 401-723-4266 or gammtheatre.org.