By Ron Clewer
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As an art supporter, it is great to see the renaissance of the arts in Rockford. From murals to gallery parties, to live music and theater performances, the city is filling with equitable opportunities for all our residents and visitors to enjoy.
The latter resurgence, live theater, especially interests me.
I am always impressed by the talent and determination staged at long time local venues from Starlight Theatre to Actor’s Ensemble, now in its 20th season. However, it is the small intimate spaces that most appeal to me. The West Side Show Room is now in its fifth season and the downtown Rockford Public Library Nordlof Center has hosted two productions from the latest theater company to debut in Rockford – Moon Dog Theatre.
More things to do: Theater, music, shopping and more: 21 chances for fun in the Rockford area this week
If you haven’t yet heard of Moon Dog, you’re in for a real “off Broadway” treat.
As the former president of the former New American Theater, once housed in the Nordlof Center, I looked forward to seeing Moon Dog Theatre’s production of John Logan’s Tony-winning “Red,” directed by Nicholas Barelli. I was also excited to see a production in the black box basement theater — a place I hadn’t seen a production in years. Barelli, his crew, and actors David Weber (assistant professor of performance at Oklahoma State University) and Phillip Fox of Rockford did not disappoint.
“Red,” a look into painter Mark Rothko’s life, is set in the late 1950s. Rothko, played by Weber, agrees to a commission of large painted murals for the opening of the newly constructed Four Seasons Restaurant.
To complete the work, he hires a studio hand, Ken, played by Fox.
From the opening scene through all interactions between Weber and Fox, you can feel the authentic professional tension between the painter and aspiring painter/assistant and key to the storyline, a painter and their work.
Weber plays the role of conflicted painter beautifully and believably. His lines are convincingly delivered through a myriad of fluctuating emotions that Fox must continually adapt to. Fox adapts perfectly as his character grows from almost servant to eventual colleague. The two actors seem to feed off each other, driving you to wonder what comes next – a sign of not only solid acting but great direction.
Well done to director Barelli and actors Weber and Fox. Additionally, many thanks to the Rockford Public Library and Rockford Area Arts Council for supporting this great newcomer to the Rockford theater scene, and for your role in bringing “Red,” a sign of life, back to the former NAT space.
I’d suspect any artist who sees this production can see their own struggles with art, as can those who simply appreciate it – like me.
There are only two nights left, Thursday, July 27, and Friday, July 28, and if you attend, tell me, “What do you see?” It will make sense after the performance. Tickets available at the door or moon-dog-theatre.square.site.
This guest review is by Ron Clewer, the former president of New American Theater.