Tuesday, 3 April 2012


I’m driving to Melbourne on Wednesday. The usual grooves of PBS FM is displaced by Radio National’s Books and Arts Daily talking about John Logan’s play Red currently at the MTC.
Before I can switch back to PBS’ Roots of Rhythm, my usual Wednesday driving companion, I realise that Red is about Rothko and my all time favourite restaurant, in a design sense, the Four Seasons in New York.
I’m certain that the vision, extravagance, drama and conceit that made up the gestation of this Madmen extravaganza will, even in these post Bulli times, be hard to Trump.
Bit of background..Put Yankee post war binge in the late 1950’s, a prime piece of Park Avenue real estate, the Seagram Corporation, Mies Van der Rohe, Philip Johnson, Joe Baum. George Lang, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock into a skyscraper of a cocktail and what you got was a deadly mix of an operatic scale played out in the opening of the most extravagant modern restaurant dining room of the most extravagant city at a time when extravagance new no bounds.
I was really looking forward to the play especially to see how the serendipitous Australian connection will be revealed. I ring the Hyphen, make a booking and slide breathlessly 8 hours later into Script dining room for a pre dinner meal.
Without giving anything away [its been reviewed in all the media quite closely] the play centres around Rothko’s moral soul search in taking a big commission from a large corporation for work that he sees as transcending all previous attempts at abstract expressionism. It’s a two-hander between the new assistant and the master confronting his own demons while monstering the young up and coming artist with questions of Pollocks suicide, the trivia of Pop Art, the nature of colour, the interplay of light, Nietzsche, Apollo- Dionysus and the eternal questions of generational change.
 Colin Friels gives a good but predictable performance with a very stilted accent [why do we need to copy accents?] the assistants role is restrained and he brings the drama to a head by confronting the Artist with the essence of his moral dilemma. After visiting the Four Seasons [its already open] Rothko reneges and brings on the climax and return of the substantial commission.
As the lights dim and applause begins I realise that the full story with the equally dramatic Australian connection is not going to be revealed.
What happened next.........
When Jerry Brody of Restaurant Associates one of the consultants working on the restaurant realises that they will not have the Rothko paintings they turn to art collector Ben Heller to ask if he had something appropriate to fill nearly 20 meter space. Heller suggested a painting in his garage that his kids were in danger of destroying. Of course it was Blue Poles. The painting goes into the private room of the Four Seasons before Rothko’s visit but strangely this is not mentioned in the play.
Fast forward to 1973 Rothko has committed suicide three years earlier. The Four Seasons has fallen on hard times and James Mollison from the Australian National Gallery convinces Whitlam and the acquisition committee to pay the highest price [A$2 million] to that date for a modern American painting. Resulting in a scandal that rocked the art world at the time.
Post Script: Blue Poles whatever you may think of it, is, today valued at between $50M and $150M

The opera continues to be played out still every day in the restaurant that now desperately needs a new American vision to feed the desires of today’s madmen. If you get a chance to go the bar snacks at the 5 pm happy time are brilliant and the interior is totally intact.


DMS said...

what about the lichtenstein in the dunny??

the hyphen actually thought that friels was excellent (and his part better written).. and the
counterpoint of the brash young tyro rather too obvious/ contrived .. ie just there for the sake of creating a'dramatic' argument and somewhat less than convincing. but yes, well worth a squiz.
but hey is this a food blog or show reviews? google 'shit on your play' for some entertaining/ provocative (sydney) theatre crits -
and I have to say, the sunnybrae extravaganza on saturday hit the heights of performance - drama, passion, structure, sophistication, faultless design, originality, underlying simplicity, character complexity, narrative thrust and exquisite sets. Tucker was good too.

George Biron said...

Mr Hyphen
Food blog shmood blog wadyawant recipes?
Saturday was good until the siren at subiaco.

Anonymous said...



George Biron said...

Hi Melwyn
Dont know the scene there but Bourdain could possibly do it...no what was I thinking Tony in a kitchen again!! no sorry cant help.

stickyfingers said...

We really enjoyed Red. We also went to the cast forum the night before we saw the play and it was then that we heard about Jackson Pollock's piece being there, as well as the music that was chosen for the play, Rothco's suicide, and the fact that Friels is exactly the same age as Rothco was when he was painting this suite.

I saw the Four Season's paintings at The Tate and although I had studied Art, I had no idea at the time of the story behind them. Regardless, I spent a long time in that room, they have a power that vibrates you to the core and I felt the play captured that life within the pieces, partly through the gradual build in the lighting to the final reveal and in part through the dialogue.

Afterwards, we spent many hours discussing the themes in the play. As someone who has worked in advertising it resonated with me in many ways. The selling of one's soul for money, fashion and ego was just one thing I have contemplated with regularity. But it happens in all the arts, the culinary arts also in particular.

To me it is not remarkable that this art pioneer railed against his predecessors as well as the following generation of artists. But it is sadly ironic that he led the way to the mainstream acceptance of inferior pastiches of his style, seen demonstrated to homemakers with step by step instructions on lifestyle TV shows - as how to cheer up a dull room.

George Biron said...

Hi Sticky

Will be in London in a couple of weeks planning to go and see them again.