REVIEW: Schulz And Odenkirk Give Rock Star Performances In Fantastic ‘Red’
Imagine me sitting in a car like Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood giving finger guns to Mike Schulz and saying, “You’re Mike F-ing Schulz! Don’t you forget it.” He deserves this level of hype, this level of praise, this level of Lets-Put-An-Actor-On-An-Unecessary-
Pedastal-ness for Mississippi Bend Players’ new “Red.”
All. Of . It.
Schulz is pretending at new and frightening heights giving a performance that I found myself simultaneously getting lost in AND studying so I could get bring even a small percentage of this bloke’s grace, believability and sheer madness to my next gig.
Schulz manages to plunge to new depths and LIVES in the character in ways you aren’t often lucky enough to witness. I don’t want to be overly dramatic here but… uhh… he delivers one of the finest performances I’ve seen on any stage any where. I’m not entirely sure how he did this but I urge every actor I know to go and take notes. Take lots of notes.
Schulz is giving a rock star level performance… the performance of his career and maybe the performance of the year.
Likewise, Tristan Odenkirk delivers an agonizing yet subtle performance as Ken, an eager new assistant to Schulz’s Rothko. Odenkirk gets to shine in a few big moments and he rocks them (his monologue about his family is especially moving) but he is most impressive when he does (seemingly) very little. He’s giving a lot to those moments of listening, of course, but it seems so
effortless and natural that it consistently draws you in to try to figure out HOW he’s doing it without wavering.
(Tristan Tangent Time #1: There were two women to my right were arguing as to whether or not Tristan Odenkirk was the same Tristan (Me) from Circa (obviously I made an impression because I’m sitting next to them and they don’t recognize me HA!). I was amused and didn’t want to ruin the pre-show fun… so… I kept quiet and laughed to myself. Then another couple comes in on my right and recognizes me instantly and ask if I’m in the show because they thought they saw my name in the program. They blow my cover, of course, which sends the other gals to my right into a flurry of I-Told-You-Sos. So, allow me to set the record straight for
anyone still confused. Tristan and I are not the same person. He has way more hair and is in better shape! Got it? Good!)
The best way I can describe it was there were times when I was transported ENOUGH (which – for me – is hard to do) to where I felt I was no longer watching a play but just watching something happen and people just… existing. Yes, that’s what all theatre is on a certain level but the belief factor is up 1000% here.
Sharply directed by Cait Bodenbender, RED (by John Logan of The Aviator, Gladiator game) centers around artist Mark Rothko (the aforementioned absurdly talented Mike Schulz) and his new assistant Ken (a rock solid Tristan Odenkirk) and creation of a commission that
while lucrative may undo everything he’s worked for. It’s an exquisite portrait of two artists at different stages of their life and their work and the delicate dance they engage in. And in the ultra capable hands of Bodenbender they certainly dance and it’s beautifully orchestrated from start to finish. The pacing, the perfect execution of the ebbs and flows… Bodenbender has painted a canvas of her own and IT IS STUNNING.
Working in perfect tandem with Bodenbender, Technical Director (and Set & Lighting Designer) Cameron Strandin creates an entire world that feels lived in and used and emotionally drained. Strandin’s lighting design, in particular, — a astonishing mix of ambers and blues — pulls off something magical here: it feels natural but also fantastical and plays on multiple levels, symbolic of course the show and the multilevel mind of Rothko himself. Strandin’s work enhances and sometimes improves upon the source material to create a fully realized experience
to further immerse us in the world of RED.
Everything is working and working SO VERY WELL. It’s the kind of inspiring piece that makes you want to leave the theatre immediately and CREATE SOMETHING. I was like, “I NEED TO PAINT SOMETHING NOW!” and “I NEED TO ACT RIGHT NOW!”
(Tristan Tangent Time #2: I couldn’t really do either so I put on the Original Cast Recording of Sunday in the Park with George and acted through song about art instead. I really gave a show to anyone looking at me at the red lights. What can I do? “Finishing the Hat” gets to me.)
Look, if RED isn’t on your to-do list this weekend, scratch something off and ADD IT RIGHT NOW. This will be on every “Best Of” list at the end of the year. The summer theatre season in Quad City area has arrived and Producing Artistic Director Jackie McCall and company have set the bar really F-ing high.
Good luck, everyone else.
“Red” will be performed Thursday through Saturday (June 17-19) at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, June 20 at 2 p.m. in Brunner Theatre Center, 3750 7th Ave., Rock Island, at Augustana College. Tickets are available at https://mississippibendplayers.com/ or by calling 309-794-7306.