‘Red’ dives deep into Rothko’s color fields

Peter Alzado
Peter Alzado

Peter Alzado co-directs and stars in Ashland Contemporary Theatre’s production of John Logan’s “Red,” playing March 26 through April 3 at the Ashland Community Center. Alzado (who served as artistic director of Ashland’s Oregon Stage Works for seven years and Talent’s Actors’ Theatre for another seven) is a brilliant actor. I saw “Red” on opening night. Alzado as Mark Rothko, the abstract expressionist painter, and Reece Bredl, as his assistant and artistic foil, deliver a dynamic two-man tour-de-force.

EH: I saw you in “Portlandia.”

PA: I think more people saw what I did in “Portlandia” than saw all of the work that I did here for 15 or 16 years.

EH: Tell me about “RED.”

PA: Rothko and his assistant are involved in working on the Seagram murals. As they work on them, there is an uncovering of secrets and also an uncovering of Rothko’s art and its relationship to the world. It is all about the work.

What got me interested in “Red” is this: Rothko developed a technique, that hadn’t been used before. It was new. It was the way he applied the colors, the way he feathered the paintings, and the layers of colors that he used. That technique gives people the experience that they have: They take the time to look at the paintings.

People think that Jackson Pollack just splashed paint on canvas. But he actually developed a painting technique (that took 10 years to develop): to mimic or parallel fractal patterns found in nature. People have a response when seeing those fractal patterns. And that’s why people respond to his canvases the way they do. People used to see Pollack sitting on his porch just staring out into nature. It wasn’t just happenstance; it was a crafted technique: His artistry made something that was significant.

Rothko, Pollack, Willem De Kooning and Barnett Newman were all going for something on the same plane. They wanted to express something about what it means to be alive. It wasn’t happenstance; they were really involved in creating something new. They were artists in the real sense of the word. They were devoted, committed, passionate and they weren’t afraid of going beyond what was considered conventional.

EH: What’s so special about the art form of theater?

PA: It is because we are with a group of people in a room. We’re all telling a story, and in that story, we understand our common plight, our common humanity. I can remember seeing productions, where I’ve walked out of a play and didn’t know where I was, because the writing and the acting were so terrific.

I’ve been in productions where 1,400 people take the same breath at the same time. It’s an extraordinary experience. That’s the power of the theater. The only way to get to that power is to get to the truth of the moment, the real human truth, to get to the essence of that humanity, that empathy that exists in the theater, in that live thing that happens. Film is great, but it is a step removed. You don’t have that visceral thing of that live performer there, that circle that happens between the writer, the actor, the director and the audience, that just rolls along.

“Red,” co-directed by Peter Alzado and Jeannine Grizzard, is p

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