Tag Archives: John Logan

Once upon a painting

My favorite scene from “Red” — which runs through May 20 at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix (Photo by Chris Bennion)

Now that our three college-age kids are home for the summer, we’ve got a bit more help around the house. Not with the heavy lifting, but more modest tasks like snatching papers off the printer and delivering them to me at my laptop. When they come with a smile, I feel doubly blessed.

Recently Jennifer was the bearer of a bio I’d printed about artist Mark Rothko, whose work is at the heart of a play called “Red” that’s being performed by Arizona Theatre Company through May 20 at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix. I find his work perplexing, despite reading myself silly on the subject.

“I like this guy,” Jennifer told me in delivery mode. Understandable when you consider that a rather Rothko-esque painting hangs in her room — a work she created many years ago during summer camp at the Oxbow School in Napa, California. That was the summer of welding and such.

I spent some time with one of Rothko’s works during a Saturday outing to the Phoenix Art Museum, where his “Untitled (Blue and Green)” created in 1968 hangs in a gallery of one of museum’s four floors. Rothko was an American painter who lived from 1903 to 1970, quite the remarkable span of U.S. history.

Near the painting there’s a brief explanation of its origin and significance, which notes that “Untitled (Blue and Green)” was “created in the final years of Rothko’s life.” Seems the work “marks a temporary reprieve in his long struggles with depression.” Two years after painting it, Rothko took his own life. Many believe he lived with bipolar disorder.

The play guide created by Arizona Theatre Company for its production of “Red” explores Rothko’s personal and professional struggles, sets his role as a founder of Abstract Expressionism in the larger context of art history and shares themes you might miss without some understanding of playwright John Logan’s approach. Think daddy issues.

I saw the play Sunday evening with youngest daughter Lizabeth, a proud survivor of freshman theater studies in NYC who was sorry she’d missed seeing “Red” during the Broadway run that earned it a 2010 Tony Award for best play. She’s making up for lost time this season, having seen eight of the 2012 Tony Award nominees.

This “Red” is a co-production of ATC with Seattle Repertory Theatre. It’s directed by Richard E.T. White, and stars Denis Arndt as artist Mark Rothko and Connor Toms as his assistant Ken. Both has significant Shakespeare experience — something I learned from reading their bios, but Lizabeth surmised from watching their movement and listening to their way with words.

Scenic design by Kent Dorsey, which demonstrates a layering that mirrors Rothko’s construction of his own work, is quite lovely. Costume design by Rose Pederson and lighting design by Robert Peterson are beautiful as well. Original music and sound design are by Brendan Patrick Hogan, who effectively uses music to convey each character’s vibe and the differences between them.

Both Lizabeth and I enjoyed Logan’s writing, and I’m eager to get my hand on a copy of the play so I can enjoy it free of others’ artistic impulses. It’s at once a treatise on the nature of art and artist, and a reflection on what makes us human — wrapped up with humor and a good dose of art history. Its themes resonate with creators and consumers of both visual and performing arts.

Folks steeped in philosophy, theology and literature will recognize something of themselves, and their craft, in Logan’s work. Those who’ve seen the films “Hugo,” “Coriolanus,” “Rango,” “Sweeney Todd,” “The Aviator” and “Gladiator” have already experienced Logan in screenwriting mode.

Seeing “Red” didn’t change my tepid response to Rothko’s paintings, but it did give me a greater appreciation for his journey — and plenty of food for thought while continuing my own.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to explore Rothko works at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Please note that “Red” contains mature language. Still, its themes can be appreciated by students of art in middle and high school.

Coming up: Playwright profiles

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The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The orphan boy in the new Scorsese-directed picture titled “Hugo” was the invention of accidental author Brian Selznick, who fully expected to do theater design work until the popularity of his books, including “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” caused him to shift gears.

Shifting gears, stolen time and secrets unlocked by the heart figure prominently in Selznik’s tale — which also features an orphaned girl. Hugo (Asa Butterfield) lives in a hidden portion of the Paris train station, while Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretze) lives with a couple she calls Mama Jeanne (Helen McCrory) and Pappa Georges (Ben Kingsley).

Hugo adores movies, but Isabelle lives for books — often shared with her by a man named Rene Tabard (Michael Stuhlbearg). Georges is convinced that he’s been robbed somehow, while his wife does her best to keep what little they have left safe and secure. Music by Howard Shore makes clear the tenuousness of her mission.

Other couples, all seemingly mismatched somehow, populate this movie — which features screenplay by John Logan. A staunch station conductor (Sasha Baron Cohen) obsessed with sending errant children to jail seeks the heart of a demure flower seller named Lisette (Emily Mortimer). An older man named Monsier Frick (Richard Griffiths) who lacks animal magnetism pursues a woman named Emilie (Frances de la Tour) who sits each day with her dog at a train station cafe.

But two other characters, neither of them human, sit at the center of Hugo’s world. An automaton, or self-operating machine (created by Dick George), who sits at a desk with quill in hand. And the fictional man on the moon. As the movie unfolds, like a delicate piece of origami art undone step by step, their role in creating and stirring memories grows more clear.

Most of the movie’s characters have been profoundly touched by tragedy, but the intersection of their lives begins fixing what’s broken. “Hugo” is at once a mystery, an adventure tale and a testament to the healing power of humanity — appreciated most fully by teen and adult audiences.

It’s also a love letter of sorts to masters of film and the art of storytelling. Author Selznick notes that Georges Méliès (Pappa Georges in the movie) was a famous filmmaker who worked from the 1890s through the 1920s. “He made the world’s first science fiction movie,” says Selznick. “It was really magical and strange.” It’s high praise, and no less true of the movie “Hugo.”

— Lynn

Note: Brian Selznick’s “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” earned a Caldecott Medal. Click here to read Selznick’s acceptance speech, which recounts his journey from childhood to children’s author and describes the origins of the boy named Hugo.

Coming up: Showing too much leg, A movie sneak peek from NYC

Seeing red

It’s starting to feel like a bit of a conspiracy theory. Now that my daughter Lizabeth is readying to leave Arizona for college, several of the shows she’s most eager to see have started popping up around the Valley.

We were “seeing red” recently when we realized she’ll be well into her freshman year (at a college yet to be decided) before the Arizona premiere of a play that won six 2010 Tony Awards — including “best play.”

The work is John Logan’s “Red” — which is based on the true story of an artist grappling with “the commission of a lifetime.” The play is described as “a searing portrait of an artist’s ambition and vulnerability.”

Apparently matters are complicated by a new assistant who questions the artist’s “views of art, creativity and commerce.” Their master/novice dialogue explores an age-old query: “Is art meant to provoke, soothe or disturb?”

“Red” is the final work in the recently unveiled Arizona Theatre Company 2011-2012 season, which opens with a world premiere titled “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club.” It’s a Jeffrey Hatcher work based on “The Suicide Club” by Robert Louis Stevenson and characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle.

The 45th anniversary season slate for Arizona Theatre Company also features the Southwest premiere of Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage,” which won the 2009 Tony Award for “best play.” Picture grown-ups trying to be civilized as they discuss their children’s misadventures on a playground — only to unravel as “political correctness” dissolves into “character assasination.”

The fact that bullying is such a hot topic of discussion these days makes this work especially intriguing. Perhaps it’ll answer one of my one burning questions: Why are parents (and politicians) who bully so suprised when children follow in their footsteps?

They’ll also present the Southwest premiere of “Daddy Long Legs” — a musical that’s based on the novel by Jean Webster. It features book by John Caird (who also directs), and music/lyrics by Paul Gordon.

“Daddy Long Legs” couples coming of age saga and love story. Told “through a series of letters,” it’s described as “a testament to the power of the written word.”

Valley theater-goers might have had more experience with the next show in ATC’s 2011-2012 season — “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps.” Lizabeth and I first saw this one at ASU Gammage, then at the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

“The 39 Steps,” which features four actors in well over 100 roles, is described by some as “spy novel meets Monty Python.” It’s the tale of a mild-mannered man who finds himself tangled up with murder, espionage and a dash of flirtacious misadventure. When well cast (which I certainly expect to be the case with ATC), it’s one of the funniest shows around.

An additional offering in the ATC 2011-2012 season is Simon Levy’s adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” — based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel of the same name. It explores a world of wealth and privilege during the “jazz age” of 1920s America.

It’s hard to imagine a stronger season. And while Lizabeth is truly disappointed she won’t be here to experience these shows, ATC’s 2011-2012 offerings will serve me well by providing poignant, powerful fare and a much needed distraction as I miss my favorite theater companion.

— Lynn

Note: Arizona Theatre Company presents their “Curtains Up Cabaret 2011” Sat, April 30 at the Herberger Theater Center. Click here to learn more.

Coming up: Musings on “message” movies, Valley teen does comedy