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"Red Ink": Blood spatter left by a once-free press


January 28, 2020

By Mark Hein

Red Ink, the newest production by Playwrights’ Arena, is don’t-miss theatre. It’s a passionate, pungent autopsy of the free press, laced with mordant insight and wry humor.

In his fierce elegy for the American newspaper, Steven Leigh Morris (a recovering journalist) hits full stride as a playwright. He concocts a perfect conceit to carry the story, and propels us through it with such wit and laughter that he almost disables our tears. Almost.

Red Ink is a tale told by a madman — a former editor, now in a mental clinic,  staging the story of his downfall as part of his therapy. The story’s full of sound and fury — and so is he, as he scrambles to hold his vanishing world (and self) together. 

This tale does not, however, signify nothing. By its end, we accept that our hero’s foibles may have earned his harsh humbling (the “red ink” of divine editorial correction). But we also feel a terrible hole has been torn in our communal life by implacable, inhumane market forces (the “red ink” of financial failure).

Leading this satiric tornado is Leo Marks, in a bravura performance of non-stop energy and dime-top turns. He lets us see through his character’s folly, yet keeps us reconnecting with him — which gives us great empathy with his exhausted wife, portrayed flawlessly by Tracey Leigh.

In fact, Leigh and the rest of the company — Jocelyn Towne, Peter Van Norden, Michelle Bonebright-Carter, and Steven Culp — are nothing short of remarkable. The five take on more than a dozen roles between them, endowing each with a complex and credible life, however briefly we may meet them. 

Director Nike Doukas deserves kudos for keeping the whirwind on pace and in rhythm — and always intelligible. Lily Bartenstein’s scene and projection designs are clear, economical, and even hilarious.  Choreographer Cate Caplin creates a fluid tango that looks as easy as it isn’t, while costume designer Mylette Nora pours Towne into a dress that’s both seductive and witty. Playwrights’ Arena has scored again.

Red Ink isn’t the first play to tackle the demise of newspapers and their freedom, but it’s far and away the most successful. Sharply and deeply written, exquisitely performed, and smartly produced, this one looks destined to travel. (CTG, are you watching? Broadway?)

Red Ink, by Steven Leigh Morris, directed by Nike Doukas.
Presented by Playwrights’ Arena, at the Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., LA 90039.

Thursday, Jan. 30, at 8:00;
Saturdays (Feb. 1, at 4:00) (Feb. 8, at 8:00);
Sundays at 4:00;
Mondays at 8:00;
through Feb. 10th.

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