“I see dead artists”: Haley Joel Osment returns to Philly in PTC’s RED

Rothko in his studio, 1964

Filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan has used Philadelphia and its environs as the setting for all of his critically acclaimed films, most famously his 1999 breakthrough movie, The Sixth Sense, which starred 11-year-old Haley Joel Osment as a child who can “see dead people.” Osment has returned to the city as a mature actor to take a major role in Red, a fictional biographical drama about painter Mark Rothko now on stage at the Philadelphia Theatre Company’s Suzanne Roberts Theatre.

Born in Latvia (then part of Russia) and brought up in New York, Rothko is perhaps the best regarded of all Abstract Expressionist artists, famed for his large deeply textured canvases. John Logan’s play takes place in Rothko’s Bowery studio as he struggles to complete a commission for the upscale Four Seasons restaurant in Manhattan. He failed. The bleak but evocatively encompassing series now fills a room at the Tate Modern in London and was the centerpiece of the museums recent exhibition of the artist’s later works. The exhibition (which I was lucky enough to see) featured an infrared analysis of one of Rothko’s paintings, demonstrating how many layers and colors of paint went into a deceptively simple color field painting.

This physical effort is laid bare in Red. Osment plays Rothko’s assistant and sounding board for his thoughts on the nature and meaning of art (Stephen Rowe stars as the artist). Together, the pair strenuously prime a large canvas while discussing the creative process itself. The play was a hit in London, Broadway, and Chicago, and reaction to the lavish Philadelphia production has been positive. Recommended for art and theater lovers alike.

Red runs through November 13, 2011, at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre in Philadelphia (480 S. Broad St.; Broad and Lombard streets). Tickets: 215.985.0420 or philadelphiatheatrecompany.org.

Published by Arts America.

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