by Jim Ridley
"It's a good month to be a Nashville theatergoer, with several thought-provoking regional premieres gracing area stages," theater critic Martin Brady writes in this week's Scene. For your weekend planning, here's are two current productions Brady recommends, starting with raves for Tennessee Repertory Theatre's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at TPAC:
Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation of the timeless Robert Louis Stevenson story calls for a single red door as the signature set piece — the focal point for the play's many scene changes. Scenic designer Gary Hoff takes that cue and goes wild, filling the Johnson Theater with red doors stacked upon red doors, with some floating in space above the misty playing area, thus providing an eye-catching setting for a potent science-fiction drama reimagined to high theatrical effect.
Peter Vann makes his Rep directorial debut a successful one, and it doesn't hurt that his cast comprises some of Music City's hottest players, including Amanda Card-McCoy, Matthew Carlton, David Compton, Jamie Farmer, and making his Rep mainstage debut, Chris Bosen.
"Less frightening but just as intellectually stimulating as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is John Logan's Red," Brady writes, which ends its run Saturday at Shamblin Theatre in a production co-sponsored by Blackbird Theater and Lipscomb University:
Here Logan takes on Mark Rothko, a Russian-American painter identified with the abstract expressionism movement but who firmly resisted such categorization. In Logan's play, it's 1958, and Rothko is creating a series of murals commissioned for New York's Four Seasons restaurant. Completing the work will earn him $35,000, and Rothko becomes increasingly frenzied as he considers the meaning of his art and its greater impact on the viewing public.
Enter a young assistant, a painter named Ken, who endures Rothko's egoism and oppressive self-centeredness while helping him conceive and execute his canvases, and eventually challenges the master's decision to exhibit his work in a tony restaurant catering to the well-to-do. (What happened to the Rothko pieces is now a matter of public record — the artist refused to hang them at the Four Seasons, and they were subsequently dispersed to museums in London, Washington and Sakura, Japan.) ...
Lipscomb theater department chairman Mike Fernandez directs the two-man cast, handing Ronnie Meek the daunting task of portraying Rothko and finding "tragedy in every brushstroke." Meek affects Rothko's Russian accent, stomps about the stage pontificating irascibly, spouts windy aphorisms, drinks and smokes devotedly, and opines on Nietzsche, Pollock, Picasso and more. Later, as he pushes through his grand delusion, he verbally abuses his protégé, played with vigor and sensitivity by Justin Boccitto. Boccitto's character, it turns out, has a personal story that eclipses Rothko's for pained inspiration.