In 1958, the moody, already-huge abstract painter Mark Rothko was commissioned to paint four large canvases for NYC's new fat-cat culinary mecca The Four Seasons. John Logan's award-scooping 2010 play (Tony, Drama Desk, you name it) imagines Rothko (Denis Arndt) hiring an ambitious young helper (Connor Toms as Ken, a composite of various Rothko assistants), whose attitude shifts from reverence to ridicule as Pop Art begins to supplant modernism. Though predictably Oedipal (the young man sharpens his own artistic vision on the grindstone of Rothko's pompous hide), the arc is a satisfying one, especially as played out on Kent Dorsey's studiously drab art studio set, where the breathtaking paintings are launched straight into your soul. ) As directed by Richard E.T. White, the usually stentorian Arndt modulates Rothko into a waning lion, lending pathos to such sanctimonious utterings as "To surmount the past you must know the past." Toms, meanwhile, radiates increasingly confident physicality, like someone drinking a power drink. Indeed, the pivotal scene of energy transfer involves the two of them racing to prime an oxblood-color canvas, both putting their all into it, but Rothko winding up winded while Ken is kindled. Throughout their sparring, the actors convincingly perform inherently interesting tasks of their trade like frame-building, stretching canvas, and priming. These absorbing details help the hackneyed arguments about the purpose of art go down more easily, as does wry humor. While Rothko derides the "comic books and soup cans" of emergent Pop Art, Ken zings "So said the Cubist the second before you stomped him to death." MARGARET FRIEDMAN [See Margaret's full review.]

Wednesdays-Sundays. Starts: Feb. 24. Continues through March 24, 2012

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