February 2, 2012 at 4:29 pm EDT | by Patrick Folliard
‘Totally committed’

Through March 11
Arena Stage

Actor Patrick Andrews is in Washington for Arena Stage’s production of the Tony-winning play ‘Red.’ In March, he returns to Chicago for ‘The Iceman Cometh.’ (Photo courtesy Arena Stage)

Typically with works portraying the mentor/pupil dynamic, pupils take a backseat, says young actor Patrick Andrews. But in “Red,” John Logan’s exploration of artist Mark Rothko rocky relationship with his studio assistant Ken (currently playing at Arena Stage), it’s different. The playwright has written a student who has as much range as the teacher.

In the part of Rothko’s assistant, Andrews gives the audience a peek into the late great abstract expressionist’s working life. Ken enters the darkly lit studio buttoned down and respectful. As the weeks pass, he settles in to a more relaxed candidness, unreservedly serving as his boss’ moral/spiritual meter. Because Rothko (played by D.C. favorite Edward Gero) is bombastic, self-absorbed and frequently hits below the belt, Ken learns to give as good as he gets. Through all the arguing and Rothko’s highhanded pontificating, both men ultimately learn from one another.

The openly gay Logan wrote and premiered “Red” in London in 2009. The production successfully transferred to Broadway, winning Tony Awards for best play and best featured player (Eddie Redmayne as Ken). For the play’s first truly American production last fall, Logan chose Chicago’s prestigious Goodman Theatre. It was staged by the company’s artistic director Robert Falls and featured Gero and Andrews. And now the Goodman production (with a few tweaks) has come to Washington.

Playing Ken — a gem of a part drawn from Rothko’s many assistants — is a nice opportunity for any young actor. At 26, Andrews, who is gay, knows it, and he takes his work very seriously. “An actor is only as good as his last performance. He must be totally committed to the storytelling that is taking place onstage on any given minute.” And though he breaks into a wide grin explaining his love of performing, Andrews reiterates that for him acting is not a game. He’s made a lifestyle choice that demands complete dedication. He sees himself as part of a noble, thousand-plus-year-old tradition.

The actor’s first artistic memory involves seeing Rothko’s huge abstract paintings at the famous Rothko Chapel in Houston with his family. He describes much of his Amarillo, Texas, childhood as art driven — lots of museums and creating things. But mostly, he focused on drama and dance. As a teenager, Andrews was on track to become a professional ballet dancer, but at the last minute he declined an offer to enter a young apprentices program with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, opting to follow a broader theatrical career path. Directly out of high school, he landed a job in the national tour of “Fosse” and has been working ever since.

Andrews is based in Chicago where he’s an ensemble member of the progressive American Theatre Company and an artistic associate with the LBGT-centric About Face Theatre. Andrews is also heavily involved in the city’s queer art scene and is a member of the three-man band, DAAN: “It’s named for band founder Dan Foley. We added the extra ‘A’ to sound pretentious. We like to play around with the performance art aesthetic,” he says. “We describe our sound as ‘queer electro fuck music.’”

While singing and dancing in musicals, says Andrews, his being gay never came up, but after he began to be cast in more dramatic roles, his sexuality came into question: Recently, he danced in a music video with drag performer Dida Ritz (currently featured on “RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 4” on Logo). For a moment, Andrews says, he considered working under a different name for the project, but then quickly rejected the idea. “I could never compartmentalize my career. It’s not something I’d do. But it will be interesting to see how my work in major regional theater and the things I do with Chicago’s queer artists collective will overlap. My hope is that one will nourish the other.”

“Red” closes March 11. The following day he returns to Chicago and the Goodman to begin rehearsals for Robert Fall’s production of O’Neill’s epic “The Iceman Cometh” starring Nathan Lane and Brian Dennehy. Andrews is cast Don Parritt, an 18-year-old anarchist on the run, another plum role in yet another notable production. This grounded young actor’s star is definitely rising.



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