Through Russian painter Mark Rothko, one might learn how to stick to one's principles.
The latest offering from Olympic Theatre Arts, “Red,” a Tony-award winning play on stage Sept. 6-23, centers on Rothko's foray into commercial art for two years, 1958-1959, with The Four Seasons restaurant in New York City.
Mark Valentine, who in performance strikes an uncanny resemblance to the painter, takes the lead in just his second role in a community production.
“It was a pinnacle achievement for an abstract expressionist, even though he rejected the label, to have his art visible like that,” Valentine said. “The conflict is whether or not he is selling out for doing it.”
For the project, Rothko hired an assistant, Ken, in the play performed by Colby Thomas (previously in “Paragon Springs” and "Sleuth”).
Director Olivia Shea said Ken serves to ask the same questions audience members might be asking to learn Rothko's intent.
“When pop artists were coming up really strong (like Andy Warhol), Rothko and his partner debate what was pertinent,” Shea said.
Valentine researched the role before auditioning and found Rothko emphasized that the viewer must engage the art.
“His paintings are people," he said. “He's creating a new vision for looking at art. You have to let art move you.”
The concept of what “Red” means comes up in the play, Valentine said.
“Red is really full with meaning. It means passion, lifeblood. It has all of these connotations or it could just mean red,” he said.
Valentine first took to the stage last year with the Port Angeles Community Playhouse's “Is He Dead?” which caught the eye of Shea.
When casting “Red,” she and Jayna Orchard, assistant director, learned Valentine was well-versed in Rothko and even one of his inspirations, Friedrich Nietzsche. Valentine lives in Port Townsend and teaches English at Port Angeles High School and composition at Peninsula College.
Taking on such a large role with several speeches as a newcomer didn't deter Shea from casting him.
“He is passionate. What's not to like?”
The small crew has worked uncharacteristically for almost three weeks at eight-hour rehearsals before shifting to four-hour practices to ready themselves for the show. In such an intimate and possibly intense environment, Shea promises that everything has flowed and chemistry has been great.
“Red” is played out in five acts with no intermission over 90 minutes.
Before a single performance has begun, “Red” has left the cast and crew with feelings of awe.
“It caught me from the first speech,” Shea said after she read the play by John Logan.
Valentine said the play is “extremely intense entertainment, which is unusual for community theater."
"To be part of this challenge is an honor,” he said.
With “Red,” Shea said they are taking a more unconventional play to the stage, similar to the recent one-man production of Samuel Beckett's “Krapp's Last Tape.”
Valentine called it a “risk that'll make you think.”
Orchard said people should leave excited and with plenty of questions.
“I've never had an experience like this before in community theater,” she said.
To continue the conversation, organizers plan for a Q&A after each performance.
For tickets, call 683-7326 or visit www.olympictheatrearts.org.