Democrat and Chronicle from Rochester, New York on October 18, 2015 · Page C5
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Democrat and Chronicle from Rochester, New York · Page C5

Rochester, New York
Issue Date:
Sunday, October 18, 2015
Page C5
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DemocratandChronicle .com Sunday,October18,2015 Page5C Arts Entertainment news and cultural events. “We’re not painters in real life, we’re a ctors,” Ford-Drucker says. “But it’s still alook into artists’ lives and why they do it.” As actors, Caffrey and Ford-Drucker are comfortable with convincing the audience that they are things that they are n ot. Patients in an insane asylum, murderers, witty 19th-century Londoners. Abstract painters? They did get a lesson in how to prime a canvas, so we know t hey can pull that off convincingly. The question of artistic authenticity is one of the dynamics at work in Red , w hich begins previews Tuesday, opens Saturday and runs through Nov. 15 at Geva Theatre Center. The play paints a picture of the dilemma faced by any creative person, be it actor, writer or painter: Is commercial success an artistic cop-out?And it poses that question with a cclaim: 2010 Tony Award winner for B est Play. But there is a second dynamic to Red , one that will be more readily evident t han in a large-ensemble show such as the just-completed run of Spamalot at Geva. Red is simply two actors; the s how’s success relies entirely on their alchemy. The fiction of an older, experienced artist and a young protégé is ref lected in the reality of an older, experienced actor playing off a performer half h is age. “The chemistry is you and the other guy,” Caffrey says. B orn and raised in a Cleveland suburb and now living in New York City, Caffrey comes to Red with a wide range of thea- t er credits, from Shakespeare to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest . He’s had a f ew supporting roles in films and some more-extensive work on TV including CSI: Miami , Seinfeld , Columbo and Murder, She Wrote , with regular appearances on the CBS Vietnam drama Tour of Duty and the soap All My Children . As director Skip Greer was casting G eva’s production of Red , Caffrey first came to his attention via video auditions. Always wary that buying a pig in a poke might lead to bringing in an actor who does not “play well in the sandbox,” as Greer puts it, he snooped around. “The reviews that came back were stellar,” he says. “He’s just been a joy, and he works his butt off.” The other guy, Ford-Dunker, is 23 years old, and quickly piling up theater credits after graduating from the Univ ersity of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. In auditions, Greer says, he saw “kind of an e xtraordinary inner-truth compass” in this kid with hair the color of a Midwestern wheat field. Red ’s Ken is a big role, G reer admits, but “just the two of you c arrying the night is something you want at this age.” T he two actors had never met until ar- riving in Rochester the first week of Oct ober to begin rehearsal. Caffrey has done Red once before, for another comp any. That certainly makes remembering his lines a little easier, he admits. “It’s locked up at the bottom of the sea and j ust floats loose.” But each new incarnation of a play should be a new experience. And Caffrey a nd Ford-Dunker have a tough challenge, as the Broadway production’s l eads set the bar pretty high. Alfred Molina as Rothko and Eddie Redmayne as Ken were both critically acclaimed, with Redmayne winning a Tony for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play. Caffrey has a solution for not repeating the characters Molina and Red- m ayne created for Red . “I didn’t see it,” he explains. Problem solved. Nor does Caffrey’s previous experience performing in Red seem to have followed him to Rochester. “He’s taking what he needs from the previous work and totally reshaping it,” Greer says. Afirst impression of the script suggests that Red ’s Rothko is a bit of a self- inflating blowhard. But there’s much more to work with here. “You wouldn’t n ecessarily think a sense of humor is a big thing with someone as deep and pro- f ound as Rothko was,” Ford-Dunker says. And there is conflict. Rothko and Ken c hallenge each other on the role of art in l ife, but Caffery and Ford-Dunker are always on the same page. Father and son? A rtist and apprentice? Co-creators? Greer hasn’t had to break up any fist- f ights during rehearsals. “They eat meals together, they hang o ut, they go back to the apartments together and run through lines at night,” Greer says. “Watching them recite lines i n rehearsal, it feels as if I should step forward and say, ‘Are you sure you two guys didn’t know each other before?’ “ But all I can do is say, ‘There it is, right there.’” R ed is set in 1958 and ’59, and the actors must respect that. “It’s about Rothko and his place and time, and you inhabit it,” Ford-Dunker says. “He was a man of the Eisenhower times,” Caffrey says. “He’s a button- down guy, a 9 to 5 guy. He puts on his suit a nd tie, goes to his studio, puts on his artist clothes. When the clock went off, he went back home to his wife.” Yet the actors find modern-day relevance. “What’s it like to be a human being with all of this noise around us?” Caffrey says. “And they thought that was noise in the late ’50s? We’re really overstimulat- ed now. He refers to all of this stuff.” As with most larger-than-life personalities, Rothko’s story is complicated. He was stormy, a man whose heavy drink- i ng, smoking and disinterest in exercise and proper eating ruined his health. Red e nds before the final decade of the artist’s life, but stray lines about red blood on a white sink, razor blades and a chill- i ng final scene of Rothko’s arms d renched in red paint foreshadow where the play doesn’t go when its 90 minutes a re up: The 66-year-old artist, two months after separating from his second w ife, overdosed on anti-depressants, s liced his arms with a razor and bled to death on the floor of his studio’s kitchen. “I can only portray John Logan’s Rothko,” Caffrey says several times. And Logan, who wrote the play, is inter- e sted in a specific Rothko. Logan knows how to tell a story. He is, Caffrey says, “a cinematic writer. You get the images right away. Most people write plays and then go on to the movies. Here’s a guy who wrote movies and then w rote a play.” Logan did write plays early in his career, but became a hot property as a screenwriter with Gladiator , Star Trek: N emesis , The Last Samurai , Hugo and the James Bond film Skyfall . He’s contracted to write the next two Bond m ovies as well. Amix of film and stage, but the two arts have engaged in an increasingly incestuous dance over the last decade. Caffrey, who has also lived in both worlds, notes that theater increasingly relies on stories that have already been hit m ovies. Last year, he points out with a h int of amusement, Broadway welcomed Rocky the Musical . A knockout, as those things go. R ed is a different sort of creature. “A mind exerciser,” Caffrey calls it, with art theory and history bobbing and weaving t hroughout — graduate student talk that fortunately avoids sounding as though it was ripped from the pages of Wikipedia. “ Rothko is violently enraged about commercialism,” Caffrey says. “It’s M adison Avenue, the post-war experience, the whole Mad Men thing.” Rothko rants against contemporaries such as A ndy Warhol and his pop-art soup cans and Jackson Pollock, for whom Rothko has both understanding and dismissive w ords. “He splatters paint,” Ken says. “You study it.” Y et almost inexplicably, Rothko has accepted a commission to create a series of murals for a Four Seasons restaurant. Acommercial assignment that he loathes — decorating a restaurant for people too familiar with fine things to notice their surroundings — even as he g oes about the work. That’s the conflict, even if history proves Rothko wrong when he says in the play that the work of artists such as Warhol and Pollack are, “Completely temporal, completely disposable, like Kleenex.” Disposable? A word perhaps dwelled upon by Logan as he moved on from Russell Crowe swinging a sword in Gladiator to Rothko wielding a brush in Red . “This play is going to be alive for many years.” C affrey says. Disposable, a word that both Caffrey and Ford-Dunker also use a s they sit in the Geva rehearsal space, discussing the artistic conflict that drives the theater’s new production. “ Isn’t it funny we are…” Caffrey says, b efore Ford-Dunker finishes the sentence: “using the lines from the play?” J PETER MACDIARMID/GETTY IMAGES Mark Rothko's No 11(Untitled) on display in London. CARL COURT/GETTY IMAGES Mark Rothko’s Red, Brown, Black and Orange in London. ‘Red’ When: Previews begin at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday; opening at 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; runs through Nov. 15. Where: Geva Theatre Center, 75 Woodbury Blvd. Tickets: Starting at $25; available at the box office, gevatheatre.organd (585) 232-4382. Stage Whispers Director Skip Greer and actors Stephen Caffrey and John Ford-Dunker lead a panel discussion on “Art on Stage: Rothko and Red“ at 10 a.m. Oct. 29 at The College at Brockport’s Tower Fine Arts Center Black Box Theatre, 180 Holley St., Brockport. Admission is free. At Memorial Art Gallery Memorial Art Gallery,500 University Ave., currently has on display Rothko’s painting Untitled (1961), on loan from the Albright- Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo. MAG Director Jonathan Binstock, an expert in contemporary art, will be the on-stage guest at a post-show d iscussion following the 6 p.m. performance of Red on Oct. 27. MAG members receive a discount to that performance. CHRIS HOLDEN/PROVIDED Actors Stephen Caffrey (Mark Rothko), left, and John Ford-Dunker (Ken), right, with director Skip Greer of the Geva Theatre performance of Red . Rothko Continued from Page 1C The question of artistic authenticity is one of the dynamics at work in Red . The play paints a picture of the dilemma faced by any creative person, be it actor, writer or painter: Is commercial success an artistic cop-out? And it poses that question with acclaim: 2010 Tony Award winner for Best Play.

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