(Michael Billington's article appeared in the Guardian, 12/9.)



Plays about painters are fraught with difficulty. Either the hero preaches about art without practising it, or the Bohemian lifestyle supersedes the work. But John Logan's play about Mark Rothko overcomes these obstacles with finesse: partly because, for Rothko, ideas were inseparable from art, and partly because of the tensions within the paintings themselves which Rothko once described as "dramas".

At first, Logan seems in danger of lapsing into a lecture on aesthetics. The setting is Rothko's New York studio in 1958-9 when he was engaged on a set of murals for the ritzy Four Seasons restaurant. We see the rabbinical Rothko dispensing dictums to his young assistant, Ken; we learn how paintings need to pulsate and be seen in a protected space. But the drama quickens into life as Ken boldly challenges Rothko's theories of colour, advocates pop art, and questions his employer's integrity in accepting a commission from a temple of consumption.

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