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Tony-nominated playwright John Logan discusses Red’s show-stopping priming scene

Prime Time: 2010 Tony Nominee John Logan Talks About Red‘s Provocative Canvas Scene

By Kenneth Jones
May 12, 2010

Red, John Logan’s Tony Award-nominated two-character play about abstract-expressionist painter Mark Rothko, explodes in the middle of its 90-minute running time.

In a daring act of choreographed wordless theatre, Tony nominees Alfred Molina (as Rothko) and Eddie Redmayne (as his assistant, Ken) take brushes in hand and plunge them into blood-red prime to prepare a canvas. They maneuver around each other — thrusting, squatting, reaching — slathering the hue on the canvas to cover it prior to Rothko’s later painting of it. By the end, often to the sound of applause, they are splattered with the liquid, looking like survivors of a horror-film massacre.

When you walk away from the Michael Grandage-directed production, it’s one of the scenes that everyone talks about.

“It is, without a doubt, my favorite part in the play,” playwright John Logan told Playbill.com. “There are no words, so I don’t have to worry about the words.”

How did the scene come about?

Logan explained, “I always knew that if you were going to write a play about painting and art — and I knew there was going to be a lot of heavy, challenging Rothko dialogue about art — there had to be theatrical life to it. There had to be some sense of coup de theatre to be stage-worthy, so I always envisioned that sequence as the fulcrum of the play, the dead middle of the play where you get to see them actually doing what they’ve been talking about.”

Logan said the scene was always in the play, but he didn’t know what it was going to be like until the actors got into rehearsal in 2009, when Red had its world premiere at London’s Donmar Warehouse.

“We rehearsed that probably more than any other point in the play, because it has to be so completely choreographed,” Logan said. “And we spent weeks with the actors just getting covered in paint left, right and center, and I give Michael Grandage and Fred Molina and Eddie Redmayne all credit for just diving in and getting splattered every single day for a solid week while we kept working at it.”

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