Theatre Arlington’s production of the arty drama “Red,” which opens Friday, might be seen as something of a coming-out party for the company’s executive director, Valerie Galloway.
“After three years, I’m letting the real Valerie come out,” says Galloway, who runs at the show at the Arlington theater, which is now in its 45th season.
Since taking the helm, Galloway has overseen productions that follow a pattern typical of community theaters that want to stay in the black. That usually translates into light musicals, sure-fire comedies and other proven crowd-pleasers. Administrators like Galloway are often frustrated by this need to give the audience what it wants, while taking minimal artistic risks.
“But every once in a while, a lot of theaters will throw in what I call a ‘stretch show.’ The kind of show that will stretch the audience’s concept of what theater can be. And I think ‘Red’ is a great stretch show,” says the show’s director, Adam Adolfo, whom many Fort Worth theater fans may remember from his years as artist director for Artes de la Rosa at the Rose Marine Theater.
Not that “Red” is that radical a piece of theater. It is a tidy two-actor drama that creates a fictional story around a real period in the life of American artist Mark Rothko, a minimalist painter of the mid-20th century known for creating large canvases that often featured just a blot of a single color.
“I don’t consider what he did painting. He was staining canvas, because he would dilute the paint so much with turpentine,” clarifies Adolfo. “And there is almost an operatic nature to the scale of many of his works.”
Rothko was one of the defining artists of what was known as modern art in the last century, yet he remains a polarizing figure. He is a god to art patrons who love his stark works, and exactly the type of artist who makes others hate minimalism.
So it is not that this drama, which runs about 90 minutes and is presented without an intermission, challenges the audience with its structure. It is that the subject matter is a little off the beaten path for Theatre Arlington. Or, as Galloway puts it, “It is not ‘Forever Plaid.’”
“This is more of a character study than a narrative. And it is not a docudrama, because one of the characters is fictional,” says Adolfo, whose only other directing job at Theatre Arlington was an excellent production of the lighter-than-helium musical “Legally Blonde.” “This is about passion, and the power behind an artist’s passion about his work. And on a higher level, this shows speaks about love and respect for art in general, and how it is constantly evolving and constantly changing.”
Galloway feels this show is a perfect example of what she hopes to present under the guidance of a newly revamped mission statement for the theater, which now reads: “Theatre Arlington enhances the quality of life in North Texas by presenting superior, diverse artistic experiences through performance, production, and education.”
“The key word there is ‘diverse,’” says Galloway.
The action of “Red” (if “action” is the right term) takes place in Rothko’s studio in 1958, where he is working on a commission for a set of artworks to be hung in New York’s Four Seasons restaurant — a high-dollar, high-profile gig that the mercurial Rothko ultimately backed out of. In his studio, he is assisted by Ken, a young artist who serves as a sounding board and whipping boy for Rothko as he works.
The play, written by John Logan, ran briefly on Broadway in 2010 and won several Tony Awards, including best play.
“One of the biggest surprises in working with this script was how much I came to respect the fictional character [Ken],” says Adolfo. “This poor kid is beat up. He is a just a battered child. So the key for me in this show was about finding his vulnerability. Once I had that, I was there.”
And Adolfo hopes that patrons will come to this show with an open mind.
“I’m concerned that people are going to look at a description of the play and think, ‘I’m going to watch paint dry for 90 minutes,’” says Adolfo. “But really, it is about the creation of art and the idea of how people create art. You will be moved. These characters paint one another’s souls.”
For her part, Galloway hopes that presenting this show will open the door to presenting more like it in coming seasons.
“I want to be respectful of the people who pay our bills. But there are so many shows I want to do,” says Galloway. “I hope people really listen to this show. I am just going to throw those seeds out there and see what happens.”
And to further emphasize her point, Galloway cites one of Rothko’s lines from the script: “I am here to make you think. . . . I am not here to make pretty pictures!”
- Friday through April 15
- Theatre Arlington
- 7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 2 p.m. Sundays (no performance April 1)
- 817-275-7661; www.theatrearlington.org