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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.

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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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