Starring Alfred Molina as Mark Rothko - an artist whose large canvases of maroon, red and black have received significant reappraisal in London over the past couple of years - the ‘action’ takes the form of studio discussions with aspiring artist Ken (Alfred Enoch) who from the outset is advised that as a studio assistant, he is not being mentored or in any way collaborating... he is merely an employee!
Four large canvases are required for The Four Seasons Restaurant and we are left in no doubt that Rothko is painfully aware he has sold-out for the filthy lucre in accepting the commission, despite a litany of ponderous, self-conscious pronouncements on the matter. Canvasses are worked on - in one notable scene with gusto and a fluidity that is intensely choreographic and leaves both performers (and a good deal of the audience) breathless.
When the worm finally turns, after two years enduring Rothko’s ego, self-absorption, and denigrating comments (on every subject, but most especially about pop art), Ken explodes giving both barrels of pent-up frustration. He regurgitates an arsenal of remembered platitudes with which to dismember his esteemed employer’s relevance and pomposity:
“...the pretension! I can’t imagine any other painter in the history of art ever tried so hard to be SIGNIFICANT! You know, not everything has to be so goddamn IMPORTANT all the time! Not every painting has to rip your guts out and expose your soul! Not everyone wants art that actually HURTS! Sometimes you just want a fucking still life or landscape or soup can...”
If you’re the sort of theatregoer who wants a landscape or soup can, there is plenty in the West End to satisfy your taste, but if you’re eager for a more hearty morsel, this could most definitely be the play for you.