“Red” by John Logan at Seattle Repertory Theatre

Out with the old! In with the new! That’s a fine sentiment when you are the “new,” but it sure isn’t fun when you’re on the other end. And “Red” provides ample proof of both.

In “Red” (directed by Richard E. T. White) we’ve entered the studio of Mark Rothko where he’s busy creating the red and black color-field paintings that were commissioned for the very expensive Four Seasons restaurant. Rothko is delighted with the commission, its placement, and the money.

As he and his newly hired assistant work feverishly they talk, about art—where it’s been and where it’s going, what defines it, who’s doing it, what makes it good or bad. Like a Rothko painting, their discussions have many layers.

Initially the young assistant listens more than he talks. He soaks in the words of the master, but as the work progresses he becomes more and more aware of their differences, and more and more ready to express his own concepts. Connor Toms as the berated and lectured at assistant morphs from toady to worthy opponent, and the transformation is impeccably presented.

It’s heady stuff! Denis Arndt as Rothko is the master of moods. So full of himself one moment, so sulky and petulant at another. He rants and rages. He spews out pronouncements. He gloats over the fact that his abstract expressionism “destroyed” cubism but then at the play’s end must face the reality that new artists with new concepts are now replacing abstract expressionism.

This all takes place on Ken Dorsey’s magnificent set. It’s the quintessential artist studio made all the better with Robert Peterson’s lighting. Fine paintings deserve fine settings. You have that setting here.

Through March 18 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer Street, Seattle. (206 443-2222 or www.seattlerep.org).

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