It’s been over a month since RED closed at Arena Stage after 108 performances. Enough time (too much?) has passed to reflect on the experience. In short, extraordinary.
The staff at Arena Stage surprised us with a cake decorated to look like the final painting of the play, to celebrate the 100th performance. It was waiting for us backstage as we came off from the curtain call, with candles aglow and champagne cooled.
Before we went in to the final weekend, Patrick and I returned to the Philips Collection to pay one last visit to the paintings and the artist that we have come to know over the past 8 months. We spent a few moments in the room, then strolled through the rest of the collection with a quiet fullness.
The final performances went off as the rest. There was no nostalgic sense of closure. We gave them the show we had come to love and enjoy. Patrick and I continued to discover nuances up to the final performance. The set seemed to be ready to close, however. On the final Saturday evening, the frame that Patrick put together in scene four splintered and broke apart during his attack speech to Rothko. But, he continued through the speech, collecting up the pieces and moving the scene forward as if it was all part of the staging. That afternoon as we raised the blank canvas before the painting sequence, we hauled it up so quickly that it jumped off the hangers. So, we simply continued the scene as we adjusted the canvas. All in a day’s work.
We closed the show with a sense of accomplishment. The audience was incredibly supportive. They seemed to concur that we had completed something very special.
After a quiet celebration with wine and cheese in the spectacular Arena kitchen with staff, crew, family and friends, we said our goodbyes with the hope of working together again. It’s a regular ritual of the theater to do so when closing. But this time it had a stronger sense of gravity than I can remember. Patrick would leave the next morning at 4 AM for Chicago and rehearsals for “The Iceman Cometh” back at the Goodman. I would leave DC for New Jersey in the morning to read a new play, “The Eve of Ides” by Chicago playwright and actor, David Blixt. That made for a clean physical and psychological break from RED. My days were filled with appointments and classes and dinners with family and friends. The time has flown by and it seems now like a faded dream.
But what a dream. I cannot fully understand the impact this project has had on me. I suppose that understanding will grow over time. But I do understand how fortunate I am to have had such an immersive experience. Research, rehearsals, performances: spending almost 18 months with this artist, this play, these colleagues, is the kind of experience an actor hopes will come along someday. Now that it’s over, it is hard to imagine anything like this will happen again. As a patron asked me in the lobby after seeing the show, “Do you think this is the pinnacle of your career?” I could only answer, “Yes… and I hope not!”
There are so many people to thank. To Bob Falls, who entrusted me to take on this piece and for his spirit of collaboration and humor. To John Logan, for his support, encouragement and good cheer. To Patrick Andrews, my partner and now good friend, for his tenacity, sensitivity and courage. To the designers, Todd Rosenthal, Richard Woodbury, Keith Parham and Birgit Wise, for their taste, skill, and remarkable rendering of the cohesive world they built to live in. To the staff of The Goodman Theater, Roche Schulfer, Denise Schneider, Julie Massey, Erin Madden, and the entire press, PR and production team for the boundless enthusiasm and joy of work.
To Old “Spicy” Joe Drummond, stage manager extraordinaire and his crack team, especially Stephen Kolack, JoHanna Hall, Jenee Garretson, James Norman, Sherry Simpson. You all made a visitor to Chicago feel so welcome. I look forward to returning to you all, soon.
Thanks also to the staff and crew of Arena Stage for making the homecoming of RED so exciting. To Molly Smith and Edgar Dobie, thank you for bringing the show to Washington. To the entire crew for making the transition from Chicago to DC seamless and fun.
Thank you also to the Visual Arts community of DC for their incredible support of the play and access to the art itself, especially Klaus Ottman, Harry Cooper and Ruth Fine. The gave me insights into the work I could never have learned on my own.
Thanks, too, to my colleagues and students of George Mason University. To Ken Elston, my friend, colleague and chair, for his support and friendship, and who afforded me the time for this adventure. To my students who walked with me every step of the way, from preparation and digging into the play with me in the classroom before, diligence in the “distance learning” experiment while in Chicago, and for coming to see the finished product when playing in Washington.
Finally, I thank you, the reader of this blog. At this date, The Making of RED has received over 12,000 hits since its inception. I remain astonished by the reception for my writing experiment about this project and will be forever grateful for your company. Thank you for taking the time to travel with me.
To those fortunate enough to explore this play going forward, I wish you well. I trust you will come to know the profound satisfaction of this play, this artist, this art. It is my wish also, that this blog will serve you in your journey.