Review: SUDS' Red
By Alexi Barnstone
I wasn’t even born yet when my great uncle died. He was 64 when he threw himself off of a sky scraper he designed and killed himself. That was back in 1987.
Growing up I heard a lot about Howard Barnstone. He was a revered architect and idolised by both my mother and father, whom had followed in his footsteps.
He was most famous for his work on the Rothko Chapel, a windowless octagon in Houston Texas that housed some of the most famous artworks from the abstract expressionist Mark Rothko.
I didn’t know much about the place or Rothko. I had never been. Without even realising it, SUDS gave me the chance to learn a lot more about my own family history.
I had never heard of John Logan’s Red, a play about Mark Rothko and his assistant Ken. Now I can’t get it out of my head.
The play is about Rothko painting a series of artworks for the four seasons hotel. He recruits Ken, a young orphan and aspiring artist, to assist him in his work. Ken works alongside Rothko cleaning up after him, helping him prep canvases, and listening to him rant about the tumultuousness of existence.
Director Sophia Bryant and her team put together a masterful rendition of the play.
Sam Fraser (Rothko) and Elliot Ulm (Ken), caught in a gripping hour and a half exchange of loquacious quips and philosophical conundrums, barely stumbled over a word. The vehement dialogue leaped across a spectrum of themes.
One moment Rothko was lambasting the vanity of society, the next he was spiraling into an existential crisis. Sam Fraser and Elliot Ulm fulfilled their roles to perfection. At first, it seemed that Sam Fraser’s Rothko would be stealing the show, but in time it became clear that the dynamic was a deliberate one, tipped as the play and its thematic developed.
For the first couple scenes it seemed that, like a blank canvas, Rothko was painting an image of the world onto his assistant Ken, but as the play developed Ken grew into his own. Eventually it was Elliot Ulm’s Ken that was driving the debate, calling out Rothko on his hypocrisy. Voicing the paradox that Rothko was caught in - claiming art was above consumerism yet profiteering from the bourgeoisie.
The play was oozing with emotion. It explored the crisis Rothko experienced as pop art began to permeate the artistic landscape, the vat of depression an artist feels when his art is misinterpreted by his audience, and the ultimate tragedy of commoditization. But more for me, more importantly than anything else, it explored the complex and strong link between art and suicide – the emotional instability of many in the creative world.
My great uncle Howard was not the first artist or suicide in my family. Barnstones have a long history with creation and pain. In the art world the two often come hand in hand. Sam and Elliot did that curse justice.
Praise to the Producer, Production Assistant, Lighting Designer, Sound Designer, Costume Designer, Stage Manager, Propmaster, Dramaturg, Art Advisor, Graphic Designer, and Photographer for putting it all together and making the experience what it was.
Rothko: Sam Fraser
Ken: Elliot Ulm
Director: Sophia Bryant
Producer: Jake Parker
Production Assistant - Charlie Breene
Lighting Designer - Tom Hicks
Sound Designer - Andie Pettersen
Costume Designer - Matt Cavagnino
Stage Manager - Declan Coyle
Propmaster - Nina Mountford
Dramaturg - Prudence Cullen
Graphic Designer - Elliot Ulm Graphic Design
Photographer - Jake Starr