Pulitzer Prize-winning play ‘RED’ highlights the value of art at Center for the Arts at Kayenta

L-R: Dean Jones as Mark Rothko and Chris Whiteside as Ken in the Center for the Arts at Kayenta's production of "RED," Ivins, Utah, date not specified | Photo by Alan Holben, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — What is art? And perhaps, more importantly, what does art do for an artist, an individual or a community?

For one, Center for the Arts at Kayenta Executive Director Jan Broberg said, it influences and elevates a community in nearly every aspect of the way the people live. Even, she added, if a person never enters a playhouse or a museum, art still has the power to influence the way people spend their money, educate their children and how they empathize with others.

Since opening in October 2017, the Center for the Arts at Kayenta has had a mission to be an integral part of raising the bar for the arts in Southern Utah.

It is a place, a theater venue, Broberg said, that has been focused on bringing artistic diversity and artistic endeavors that are adventuresome, that push the envelope and allow for grown-up, thought-provoking messages to be shared through art.

As the center is set to celebrate its third anniversary, they are showcasing “RED,” a Pulitzer- and Tony Award-winning play that hones in on the importance of art and the artist and how they are critical to the heart and soul of a human being and society.

Chris Whiteside as Ken in the Center for the Arts at Kayenta’s production of “RED,” Ivins, Utah, date not specified | Photo by Alan Holben, St. George News

“The text is so beautifully deep and passionate,” Broberg said of the play.

Written by John Logan, “RED” is set in the New York City studio of American abstract expressionist, Mark Rothko.

In the play, Rothko (Dean Jones) has recently received the biggest art commission in modern art history, a set of murals bound for display in the Four Seasons Restaurant.

But as Rothko and his fictional assistant, Ken (Christopher Whiteside), work over the course of two years to complete the commission, a series of conversations unfold that challenge the very fabric of what art means to the artist and to the viewer.

“What do you see?” Rothko asks as the show opens in the artist’s studio.

It is a poignant and contemplative question that sets the tone for a show that ebbs and flows between silence and cacophony, darkness and light, passion and restraint, amusement and importance, and indifference and love.

In the moments of cacophony, Logan’s script is dizzying and both Jones and Whiteside tackle the wordplay and intellect with a fierceness that fills the intimate black box theater in Kayenta. The two men have so much stage chemistry and timing, it’s easy to believe the audience is simply a fly on the wall of the art studio; there is such a realness and earnestness to their portrayals.

Dean Jones as Mark Rothko in the Center for the Arts at Kayenta’s production of “RED,” Ivins, Utah, date not specified | Photo by Alan Holben, St. George News

The artist constantly challenges his young assistant to think deeper and do better as he dives into the lives of the artists who came before, who are contemporaries of and who are coming after him.

In the play, Rothko asserts that art should be informed by literature and philosophy, and the script plays with the idea that humans have inside them a duality between the passionate and sensual and the ordered and restrained.

It is an idea presented in Frederich Nietzche’s “The Birth of Tragedy,” and one that Logan uses to influence the script about Rothko and Ken and how they confront their own dualities and tragedies.

At the helm of this production of “RED,” is director Clarence Darnell Gilyard, Jr., a professor and veteran actor known for his role as Chuck Norris’s partner and friend, James “Jimmy” Trivette, on “Walker, Texas Ranger.”

It is clear that Gilyard has a passion for the script and the powerful force for good that he believes art is to the human spirit.

Of Logan’s work and its influence, Gilyard wrote in the playbill:

(I) now strive to echo the clarion call that reinforces the fact that art and the artist are critical to sustaining the health of the human being, the family, the community, and society. There are two sides to every beautiful brain, and the body and soul are informed in wonderfully complex ways when the truth is … now. This is a play about love … get ready.

While the ideas and dialogue presented in “RED” are lofty, and the two actors are more than up to the challenge, it is in the moments of silence where Whiteside and Jones show their brilliance.

After the many crescendos of wordplay, there come deep and penetrating falls of quiet that cause the viewer to lean in to the subtle ways the two actors occupy the space. The way they express their demons or contemplate a work of art.

Director Clarence Gilyard pauses on the set of the Center for the Arts at Kayenta’s production of “RED,” Ivins, Utah, date not specified | Photo by Alan Holben, St. George News

It is in these most moments that the art of the play is just as important as the art being presented within the play.

“What do you see?” Rothko asks as the show quietly closes on the artist’s studio.

“Red,” Ken said.

What is art?

Well, in this production of “RED,” art is howling musical dialogue and real tears leaking from the actor’s eyes, it is a balletic scene of splashing red paint and a carefully crafted set (Randy Seely) that invites the audience into Rothko’s world of art, ambition and thought-provoking genius.

Art is also, according to Broberg, a lifesaver.

“I look back over my life and my life experiences and I really would not have survived had I not had the arts in my life,” she explained. “They really did save my life.”

And while Broberg said that arts can impact people personally in myriad ways, she added that there is something to be said about the communal aspect of experiencing the feelings that people all go through, the feelings that let a person know they are not alone, provide hope or determination or create empathy for others.

“These are the things we stand for in the arts, and especially in this venue,” Broberg said.

The show runs Thursday-Sunday this week and Oct. 15-17 at 7:30 p.m. The Oct. 17 performance will also be a special “Give Life to Art” celebration of the center’s third anniversary with special guest performances, food and a silent auction.

“RED” is suitable for mature audiences and contains adult language.

Due to health guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic, tickets are limited. Groups are social-distanced within their parties, masks are required and temperatures are taken upon entrance.

Tickets are $35 and can be purchased online, by calling 435-674-2787, or at the box office. Tickets for the Oct. 17 special performance are $50.

The Center for the Arts at Kayenta is a nonprofit arts organization. Donations can be made here.

Event details

  • What: The Center for the Arts at Kayenta presents “RED.”
  • Where: Center for the Arts at Kayenta, 881 Coyote Gulch Court., Ivins.
  • When: Thursday-Sunday, Oct. 8-11, and Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 15-17, 7:30 p.m.
  • Cost: $35; Saturday, Oct. 17, $50.
  • Purchase tickets: Online, by calling 435-674-2787, or at the box office.

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!