The Apollonian and the Dionysian co-exist more or less peaceably in the body of 26-year-old Chicago actor Patrick Andrews, who plays the pliant assistant Ken to Washington favorite Ed Gero as the bellicose and brilliant modern artist Mark Rothko in a much-anticipated run of Red. The co-production between Chicago’s Goodman Theatre and Washington’s Arena Stage has Robert Falls directing John Logan’s poetic play in both cities.
Depending on your emotional state, Red either depicts the struggle between a mentor and a pupil, a father and son, David and Goliath, or the high-minded ideals of Apollo acolytes versus the pleasure-seeking mandates of Dionysus followers.
“In many ways, I feel like I am living the play,” said the actor, choreographer and member of the “queer-electronic-fuck” band DAAN and the group Goldmine. “I have my day job as acting in Red—my straight Arena/Goodman persona—and then this late-night persona. It’s like I am a superhero changing into my suit and cape.”
For now, Mr. Andrews is giving his after-midnight alter ego a bit of a break to once again settle into the role of Ken after a two-month hiatus. “The set is such a specific universe for Ed and I to play in and they seamlessly moved the set from the Goodman to Arena. Now that we feel once again at home it is time to get the lines back into our bodies. For me, the time off allowed the play to simmer.”
In a blog Mr. Gero kept during the Goodman run of Red, he spoke about how the timbre of the play changed according to the mood and unspoken wishes of the audience. “Arena is smaller than the Goodman and we are really looking forward to that new intimacy with audiences,” he said. “You can gauge where the audience is early on and it does inform where you are going to go during that performance. If people respond to the philosophical debates, we’ll chew on that, or the quippiness, or the father-son tension. The trajectory of the play remains the same, but the colors of the experience are very much informed by the audience.”
The set for Red makes the audience a palpable part of Rothko’s studio, an old gymnasium in New York’s Bowery neighborhood in the late 1950s. “We spend a lot of time staring at the audience, seeing them as pieces of art, gazing upon them,” he noted. “Some members of the audience take to that, some you can sense are a little uncomfortable.”
To prepare themselves for the Washington run, Mr. Gero, a DC resident, took his costar on a Mark Rothko pilgrimage the day he arrived in town. “We went to the National Gallery, which is exhibiting the Red Series portrayed in the play. To actually stand in front of those paintings and take them in was indescribable. It was like battling two versions of myself—the strong visceral emotional response as my character Ken and the experience of me as a lover of art and seeing through those paintings the blood, sweat and tears of Rothko at that time in his life. I could see the brush bristles still embedded in the paint—it gave me the chills.”
The Red Series is a group of three paintings originally commissioned to hang in the posh Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagrams Building. Mr. Andrews plans to go to the Phillips Collection to visit the Rothko Room as well during his time here. “I have always been an art buff—my parents took us to art museums—it was an art household,” he said. “But being in this play has made me feel smarter, more knowledgable about art—it is a mini art history lesson. But not in a didactic way, but more of an awareness, an appreciation of the process it takes to make a work of art rather than just dwelling on the finished product.”
The same goes for Red. “I am already discovering new meanings. There are so many layers of paint—the spiritual, the psychological, the mentor-student. My relationship with Ed only makes the play richer. We can be nastier to each other onstage because we are that much closer and better friends now.”
Even with the added richness, Mr. Andrews is still embraces the mystery. “I don’t think I will ever completely understand the play and that’s a testament to John Logan’s writing. The play speaks to you in so many ways—like, if you are not up for the Apollo versus Dionysus debate, there is that moment that everybody has had where you fail the mentor and the mentor fails you. Red also talks about life and death—why are we here? What’s the point?”
Mr. Andrews believes the rarified spectrum of Red is preparing him for his next role at the Goodman, that of Don Parritt, the young and conflicted former anarchist in Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, which also will be directed by Robert Falls and stars Brian Dennehy and Nathan Lane. “I’ll be trading in 90 minutes of emotional, operatic intensity for four hours of emotional, operatic intensity. I can’t wait.”