Life & Times of artist Mark Rothko portrayed, “Red” returns to fairgrounds

Award-winning, dynamic, and posing the big questions in the art world.

Presented by Island Stage Left, “Red,” written by John Logan, returns to the San Juan County Fairgrounds; opening night is Oct. 24, 7:30 p.m.

Set in the studio of American artist Mark Rothko in 1950s New York, themes are explored through the father-son, mentor-student relationship between Rothko and his assistant, Ken. Rothko’s critically acclaimed and controversial career ended in 1970, when he took his own life. He cultivated a signature style that become known as “multiform,” through his use of rectangles and striking and somber colors.

What are the big questions to ponder?

“What is art, how do we pass that on to the next generation, and how do they receive it,” Stage Left Director Helen Machin-Smith said.

Ken is an amalgamation of the various assistants Ruthko had throughout his career, and is played by Seattle actor Jonathan Shue, who joins Island Stage Left for the first time. Stage Left’s Daniel Mayes returns in the role of Rothko.

Red Actor

Local artists and Spring Street International School students provided Rothko replicas for the set, which help give the production an authentic studio feel.

Adding to the authenticity, the actors create their own painting on stage, allowing for a chance to see some practical applications of art, like canvas stretching, priming, and painting. With the onset of a new actor, the dynamic of the show has changed, but Machin-Smith resists comparing this year’s production to the last.

“The show itself has matured,” she said. “Kind of like a fine wine.”

Now in its 16th year, Stage Left operates entirely by donations, which help to compensate actors, stage managers and lighting crew. The production of “Red” is sponsored in part by the Islands Museum of Art.

“Red” will run through Nov. 16, Thurs.-Sat., 7:30 p.m., Sun., 4 p.m. Admission is free, donations are encouraged.