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The Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company, in co-production with Canadian Stage and The Citadel Theatre, present John Loganês Tony Award-winning play, Red. (Bruce Zinger/Bruce Zinger)
The Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company, in co-production with Canadian Stage and The Citadel Theatre, present John Loganês Tony Award-winning play, Red. (Bruce Zinger/Bruce Zinger)

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As far as art commissions go, it was as big as they come. It was 1958, and Seagram’s asked famed abstract painter Mark Rothko to create a series of murals for their new Four Seasons restaurant in New York City – and for a hefty sum.

Mr. Rothko said yes – and began to create works to suit the restaurant’s luxury interior. But on a trip to Europe, which included a visit to murals by Michelangelo, he famously told the publisher of Harper’s that he wanted to create a work “that will ruin the appetite of every son-of-a-bitch who ever eats in that room.” When he returned to America, he refused to complete the project.

The reasons behind the temperamental artist’s abrupt about-face were never made clear, so Oscar-nominated screenwriter and playwright John Logan, who penned Gladiator and The Aviator, imagines them in Red – a Tony-winning play that explores the creative ego and the tenuous relationship between art, fame, money and business.

No details were overlooked in this production, which has the Electric Company’s Kim Collier at the helm: The stage was built to mirror Mr. Rothko’s working conditions; the Barenaked Ladies’ Andy Creeggan composed an original score inspired by the music Mr. Rothko listened to while working; and you can even visit a website, ExperienceRed.ca, where you can observe – and be berated by – Mr. Rothko through the eyes of his young assistant.

Red runs at the Vancouver Playhouse until Feb. 4 (vancouverplayhouse.com).

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