Strange and wonderful and a rare opportunity to see a famous painter reveal his process on stage—well, the character of a famous painter.
This year’s Fred Skeleton Theatre production, Red, is so good it collected almost every award at the Okanagan Zone Theatre Festival. In this challenging piece, the young company portrays abstract expressionist Mark Rothko’s tumultuous relationship with his young assistant, Ken, in an emotionally charged boundary-pushing staging that should leave audiences on their edge of their seats.
O-Zone Festival adjudicator Michael Armstrong has since helped hone the performance, pushing to see Rothko staged as a bit of a villain, where director Rob Mason-Brown had seen him as more of a father figure to Ken.
“The play works better the more of an asshole Rothko is, so we’ve really worked on the characters a lot to remove some of the more sympathetic scenes,” said Mason-Brown.
Fred Skeleton is all about risk taking and dramatic theatre that pushes boundaries. Created in university by Mason-Brown, the project was revived a couple of years ago as a niche company he and his wife, Shannon Mason-Brown, could run out of their living room, and appears on the cusp of establishing itself as a staple in what’s quickly becoming a lush theatrical environment. “We always looked for shows that were a little bit strange, a little bit weird and that’s where I’ve kind of kept going in Kelowna,” said Mason-Brown.
Last year, this meant taking on Venus in Furs.The play recreates a theatre company’s production of a sadomasochist novella, seeing the power dynamics between actor and director utterly destroyed in the process (Roman Polanski has just released it on film).
This year, Red brings actor Chris Froese, who plays Rothko, to the stage with Jacob Holloway, Ken, to create a red hot mess as they prepare and paint a canvass of creative differences—both in product and relationship.
“I want to do thought-provoking, challenging pieces that leave audiences thinking about their own opinions and that really resonate with people and push the envelope,” said Holloway, who ultimately picked the script in preparing for his University of Alberta entrance audition and wound up convincing the Mason-Browns to scrap their original selection and run with Red.
The monologue he worked through has the kind of range—anger, sadness, hurt and disbelief—to catch the eye of a theatre professor, but it’s also indicative of a killer story, laid out in the sort of movie script-style dialogue to make theatre palatable and attractive to any audience.
Penned by American Playwright John Logan, whose scripts have spawned blockbuster movie successes like The Aviator, the plot sees Rothko and Ken attack a group of murals for a Four Season Hotel restaurant, Ken brashly questioning Rothko’s theories of art and his decision to accede to work on such a commercial project with a voracity to leave actor and stage looking like a paintball bloodbath.
Picking up the O-Zone’s best production, best director (Rob Mason-Brown), best actor (Froese), best supporting actor (Holloway), best set decor (Shannon Mason-Brown), and best backstage (Vanessa Lomas), it’s clearly a hit.
Red plays this Friday, June 27 at the Black Box Theatre in Kelowna at 8 p.m., in Vernon at the Vernon Hub Collective Saturday, June 28, at the Shuswap Theatre on July 4 and in the Mainstage BC Festival in Kamloops on July 11. Tickets are still available.