Heritage Theatre Festival Moves Into Ruth Caplin Theatre with Tony Award-winning ‘Red’

A tradition since 1974, the Heritage Theatre Festival – the professional summer theater at the University of Virginia – continues its 2013 season with “Red,” John Logan’s Tony Award-winning play about modern artist Mark Rothko and his struggle over producing art for commercial use.

Directed by Betsy Rudelich Tucker, a retired associate professor of drama in the College of Arts & Sciences, “Red” runs through Saturday and again from July 9 to 13. This performance marks the first Heritage production in the 300-seat Ruth Caplin Theatre, which opened April 18.

The latest addition to the Betsy and John Casteen Arts Grounds, the Ruth Caplin Theatre is a “thrust-style” facility, extending the stage into the audience, creating a greater sense of intimacy between the performers and the audience.

Named for Ruth Caplin, the facility was built thanks in part to a $4 million donation from Caplin and her husband, Mortimer Caplin, an alumnus of U.Va.’s College of Arts & Sciences and School of Law.

In 2010, “Red,” a two-character play, captured six Tony Awards, including Best Play, with its engaging story that presents a complex moral dilemma regarding artistic integrity.

“Red” opens in 1958 when legendary abstract expressionist Rothko is at the height of his fame and has just accepted one of the biggest commissions in the history of modern art – creating giant murals for the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York’s Seagram’s Building.

“I have always been drawn to Rothko’s work,” Tucker said. “He was a larger-than-life character – full of contradictions, opinionated and passionate.”

Over a period of two years, a young assistant named Ken challenges Rothko to examine the difference between selling and selling out. As the play unfolds, Rothko is forced to decide whether his crowning achievement will also be his undoing, conveying the continuing struggles of the artistic spirit. 

The play allows the audience to see art and the art world through the eyes of both new and old artistic perspectives – through the development of the relationship between a visionary artist and his young apprentice.

In the end, Tucker said, the play is proof that commercialism and artistic integrity can coexist, even if not always comfortably.

“Artists do have to sell their work – be it their talent for acting or dancing or painting – in order to survive,” Tucker said. “Selling, marketing and business must be part of the life you choose.

“‘Red’ illustrates that, ultimately, we all must put our values to the test and find the lines we cannot cross without ‘selling out.’”

The play contains strong language and is intended for mature audiences.

Performances will begin at 7:45 each evening. There will be a 2 p.m. matinee performance on July 13. Tickets for the show are $35 ($30 for seniors, U.Va. faculty, staff and alumni, and $15 for students). Single and season tickets are available at the U.Va. Arts Box Office (located in the lobby of the Drama Building), online at www.uvahtf.org or by phone at 434-924-3376.

Free parking for all Heritage Theatre Festival performances is available at the Culbreth Road Parking Garage, conveniently located alongside the theaters.

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John Kelly

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