“I’m not an abstractionist. I’m not interested in the relationship of color or form or anything else. I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on.” -- Mark Rothko
The play Red by John Logan reveals the fierce passion and intensely opinionated nature of Abstract Expressionist painter, Mark Rothko. In the play, Rothko and his assistant and protégé Ken are deep into working on a commissioned series of paintings for the new Four Seasons restaurant in New York City. Red is a duet between Rothko, an anxious artist who fought against commercialism and a love-hate relationship with success, and Ken, his assistant who represents the new blood of the art world, with the new generation’s fresh ideas and strong opinions about what art really is.
In the Actor's Theatre of Charlotte production of Red, Ken is played by Jeremy DeCarlos, who at 31, has already played lots of juicy parts in such plays as Pippin, American Buffalo, Topdog/Underdog, and Gem of the Ocean at ATC. DeCarlos, also an accomplished musician (he plays the guitar, violin, and other instruments), says he chose acting as a career because as an actor he gets to be all the people he dreamed of being as a child – the chance to try his hat at all kinds of roles is endless. Here's what DeCarlos had to say about art and Red.
What actors have inspired you?
My sensible answers to this question would be, like, Will Smith or Idris Elba. Maybe Johnny Depp to an extent. My honest answers would be more James Dean and Montgomery Clift. Marlon Brando. And since my tastes range greatly and I’m inspired by many actors, I also dig on Nicolas Cage and Keanu Reeves. What can I say?
What did you know about Rothko before you got the part of Ken, Rothko’s assistant and protégé in Red?
I knew he had something to do with paint! Art history was never my strong suit, though at one point I did want to become an artist. After I read the script, it became clear the vast amount of research that I felt compelled to do, and this was before casting. I was and am genuinely intrigued by Rothko. I was surprised to learn how abrasive he could be perceived, but the rigid delicacy he applied to his creations is nothing short of inspiring. Much like Shakespeare, who when writing plays would 'instruct' you in how to perform them, Rothko demands you view his art a certain way. And when you follow his directions, the result is breathtaking.
What do Rothko’s paintings say to you?
Conflict. All those fuzzy rectangles should be that, but with Rothko even simplicity is complex: his rectangles are moving, fluid. As it mentions in the script, his works pulsate and the depths of what that means to the viewer.
|"Untitled" by Rothko|
We do paint. What we do is try to bring to life the inner workings of an art studio. So, a lot of our business onstage as actors is to build frames, mix paint and prime canvases. What we do is a theatrical representation on priming a canvas.
Did you have to go through some sort of artist workshop in order to portray a painter onstage or have you had previous training as a painter?
In college I had the privilege of working closely with artists. Literally. The art building and the theater were next to each other. I made several artist friends, and would later live off campus as roommates with them, and I made it a point then to capitalize on my curiosity. In preparing for this role I reached out to those artists still around and grilled them for all it was worth. I got their opinions on Rothko, art history and most importantly crash courses in techniques like how to hold brushes properly.
I understand there are lots of references to some great thinkers in the play like Nietzsche, Freud, Jung and Shakespeare. How did you prepare for this type of intellectual role?
Freud and Jung I had previously studied in college, so I was familiar with them. I also studied with the South Carolina Shakespeare Company for several seasons, and that was like a boot camp- I mean that in the best way possible. Shakespeare? Got it. Nietzsche I had only dabbled in, so I went straight to the reference in the play, The Birth of Tragedy. I was struck by how long I had lived without reading it- I related to the material quite easily and the discussion of the symbiosis between Dionysian emotion and Apollonian form is incredibly relevant to what I do as an actor.
How are Ken and Rothko similar and/or different?
They're both competent and knowledgeable painters, to say the least. Rothko certainly more so. Ken is more at the cusp of his prime, whereas Rothko is on the tail end of his. The main difference is that Rothko believes that his movement is and will be the only movement, and Ken challenges that notion.
Who are some well-known artists that you admire?
I've been a fan of Banksy for a while now, not to be all hipster about it. But, I love that mix of art, social awareness and hooliganism that exists with Tagging when done properly, and Banksy's work is amazing in that way. The way he plays with depth and that ink-pad stamp look. Almost Escher for the streets.
|"Triptich" by Rothko|
What artwork is hanging in your home now? Why did you choose work by those artists?
I'm a minimalist, or a poor interior decorator, take your pick. I'm currently rocking some off beige affair from Sherwin Williams in my walls. However, I did fall into the Che Guevara art movement of the early 00's. I had plenty of the 'Hasta la Victoria Sempre' stuff all over that didn't survive the move. To be fair, I did study Che quite extensively, but it was certainly fueled by public interest. Now, I have little pieces like a block with a murder of crows painted by a local artist and a strange multicolored ceramic elephant with a cracked trunk that was unearthed in NoDa. I found it walking my dog and fell in love with it.
What do you like most about the character you portray?
I like that he has a legitimate arc. Some characters journeys are greater than others, and Ken's journey is pretty epic. He grows, he has to. He takes shots in the beginning but learns to defend himself, to speak his mind, to lay stake to his claim. And it's done intellectually.
What do you think the audience learns about Rothko and Ken by the end of the play?
I think the audience will learn that Rothko was a dedicated and opinionated painter who maybe lost his way later in his life and that Ken, while talking Rothko away from the ledge, may likely carry a little of Rothko's spirit into the Pop Art movement.
The last production of Red will be held Saturday, December 1, 8 p.m. at the Actors Theatre of Charlotte, 650 E. Stonewall Street, Charlotte. Call 704-342-2251 for more information. Also, Look for DeCarlos in ATC’s upcoming production of The Whipping Man.