Painting onstage: a combination of art forms

by Lenise Willis

Just as a painter mixes swirls of colors on his palette, Triad Stage will be mixing art forms in its Winston- Salem production of Red. (And for anyone looking for Valentine’s Day plans, you really can’t fail taking your date to an art show and a play at the same time.)

The play, inspired by the life and works of the famed painter Mark Rothko, delves into both his troubled mind and the genius of his techniques which gave birth to abstract expressionism.

“Part of the reason why the play succeeds is that people just love his paintings,” said director Jeffery West about Rothko’s layering technique. “I’ve seen Rothko’s paintings … it’s like a huge rectangle floating in space that you can’t seem to focus on.”

Craig De Lorenzo, who plays as the assistant, Ken, commented on how particular Rothko was about how his paintings were hung for presentation, requiring a certain height, lighting and viewing distance.

“It’s a very difficult play because we’re creating an art studio onstage and having to create a big space (for his enormous paintings),” West said. “We’re also playing with a lot of paint, as well as how much we’ll need to clean up.”

In the play, Rothko has been tasked with painting a series of murals for the Four Seasons restaurant. His assistant is there to help; however, he ends up provoking the artist, and questioning his new techniques, but their fighting inevitably changes their lives and their art forever. Set in Rothko’s 1950s art studio, the scenery includes a giant canvas onstage, paintbrushes and other tools, and even antique tins, cans and other whatnots from the decade. As the two characters work and discuss art and life, the music that plays behind them represents their different tastes as well as contrasting ideas and personalities. Rothko paints to classical music, while his assistant works to jazz. “It’s a beautiful play,” West said. “It’s a moving and strong play.

It’s a thoughtful and emotional play and it raises questions, like ‘Why have art?’” West said that’s one reason why this play is perfect for Triad Stage’s new Winston-Salem audience. “The arts are so celebrated in Winston-Salem.” The play paints an illuminating picture of what the art world was like in the 1950s. “It was a time when people were leaving middle-class homes and the idea of the white picket fence in search for something else,” De Lorenzo said. “They were searching for new ways to express themselves (after WWII)…these guys wouldn’t have wanted the label (abstract expressionists).”

“It’s also just about a troubled guy,” West said. “He had demons and I can relate to that,” said Ned Van Zandt, who plays the painter Mark Rothko on stage. “He railed against the system.”

The dynamic between the only two characters on stage is in an interesting one. “(Rothko) was an alcoholic, he wasn’t a good father or husband, but it turns out he was a good teacher,” Van Zandt said. Even though Rothko explicitly tells his assistant that he is not there to be his mentor or teacher, a father-son relationship begins to form between the two. Because the play combines two beautiful art forms, there are more challenges for the characters, such as learning how to stretch, prepare and paint a canvas, as both characters will be working on a painting throughout the play. “It’s very exciting,” De Lorenzo said. “That’s the great thing about acting—getting to learn new things.”

“The greatest challenge for me is I never shut up in this play,” laughed Van Zandt, who already has a background in painting.In short, Red is a thought-provoking play about a revolutionary painter. It’s a play about an exciting time in art history, as well as a drama about two troubled men. And packed with paint, intriguing discussion, classical music and jazz, it’s sure to be a well-rounded view of what art really is. It’s also sure to make a great date night. ! WANNA


Celebrate Valentine’s weekend with Triad Stage’s Red, performing at the Hanesbrands Theatre, located at 209 Spruce St., now through Feb. 23. Tickets are $7-$44 depending on day and seating. Visit or call 272- 0160 for more information.