Independent Theatre. Space Theatre – Apr 13 to 21
So this is a new play by John Logan, it’s a multi-award winner and there has been a lot of hype about its Australian premiere for Independent Theatre. Expectations were high on arrival in the Festival Centres Space Theatre, and initial impressions of the set were great. The show is a two hander played out in a single location - the studios of the famous American artist Mark Rothko.
Essentially the story is an exploration of Logan’s impressions of Rosko from his extensive studies. The script includes a fictional character called Ken, who takes a job working as an apprentice to Rosko in his studio. As their relationship unfolds over a period of more than two years the character’s needs, wants, strengths and insecurities are revealed.
The play starts very slowly, spending a lot of time focussing on Rosko and his neurosis, quite deliberately showing the audience how troubled and cloistered the character is. Rosko doesn’t appear to have any inner conflicts however, and there is no apparent external conflict with Ken, which leaves the action feeling quite drawn out and difficult to engage as an audience. The writing improves immeasurably just over half way through when Ken finally challenges Rosko and the characters attempt to defend their beliefs. This change in pace has a marked impression on the watching audience too, who all sat up and took notice again.
The performances are excellent from both David Roach as Mark Rosko and Paul-William Mawhinney as Ken. Roach is completely transformed in his characterisation; his Rosko was well studied and very believable. Mawhinney balanced Roach perfectly, making the transition from a naïve, innocent arts graduate to an educated young adult with strong values and opinions smoothly.
The use of the space was excellent. The set design also by Roach included replicas of the equipment Rothko used in his own studio and was fully functional including running water. No expense had been spared on set design, and it showed. Lighting (by Matthew Marciniak) played an important part in both the scripting and staging and was always complimentary to the production.
Philosophically speaking there is a lot to chew on in this story. It is essentially a tale of facing one’s own truths, and the predisposed denial we all struggle to overcome. This is a tough show to watch, but with the right attitude to the work, it is a very rewarding piece. No prior artistic knowledge required, just an open mind.
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