When the curtain rose on his Broadway career in Yasmina Reza's Tony-winning Art, he was one man in a trio of pals pondering a piece of art — a large white square — bought by one and loathed by the other. Mostly, he spent his time appeasing and applying pointless Band-Aids to a hemorrhaging friendship.
Now, in John Logan's Red at the Golden Theatre, under Michael Grandage's direction, Molina has not only progressed to a primary color, but moved to the other side of the canvas. He plays abstract-expressionist painter Mark Rothko circa 1958, when he was in the throes of creating his sanguinary murals for the Four Seasons in the Seagram building — the largest mural commission since the Renaissance.
"I've graduated from a consumer to a practitioner," Molina understates. "We had a good run at London's Donmar, but I think it's quintessentially a New York play, about one of New York's favorite sons."
Red, like Sondheim and Lapine's Sunday in the Park with George, aspires to get into the minds and motives at play in the creation of art. Molina contends the play "does actually provide the audience with a clear insight into what an artist does and how traumatic it can be. "And, of course, the other element is that it happened at a particular time in Rothko's life when he and his generation were being superseded — in much the same way Rothko's generation of American abstract expressionists, in a sense, destroyed Cubism and surrealism." The battle lines in this March of Art take the form of a fact-and-fiction two-hander: we see only Rothko and his ambitious assistant Ken (Olivier Award winner Eddie Redmayne), who subscribes to the Andy Warhol school of Pop Art that Rothko sees a-coming. "Ken is a fictional character, an amalgam of several of Rothko's assistants. Eddie has a slightly harder job because, whereas I'm playing a real person and had lots of material to rely on, he had to create something out of an amalgam."
But when these two come together, brush in hand, to prime a blank canvas in a harmonious artistic frenzy, splattering crimson with demented abandon till it is saturated in red, they impart to the audience a sense of what creation must be like.