In a dialogue during rehearsal at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, Victor Talmadge and Michael Jennings Mahoney moved across the stage discussing the meaning and different shades of the color red. The two men, working with director MJ Bruder Munafo, are the stars of the two-man show Red, which opens on Thursday, August 11 at the playhouse.

John Logan’s 2009 Tony Award winning play (six Tony awards in all) explores the relationship between the abstract expressionist Mark Rothko and his fictitious apprentice, Ken. The play originated in London and then moved to New York city, with Alfred Molina playing Mr. Rothko and Eddie Redmayne his assistant. The play is written in five scenes and spans the course of a year and a half. It is based on the actual event of Mr. Rothko being commissioned to paint murals for the Four Seasons Restaurant.

Red runs Tuesdays through Saturdays through Sept. 3. — MJ Bruder Munafo

“How we get from A to Z is the wonderful part,” said Mr. Talmadge during a conversation before a recent rehearsal. “It’s very much of an apprentice-master relationship but that changes and morphs over the course of the play. It’s wonderful because I have 30-plus years of acting experience, Michael has maybe five to 10 years, so we didn’t have to work at that relationship at all.”

According to Mr. Talmadge, rehearsal has also been smooth because he and Mr. Mahoney had their lines memorized before they came to the Island. Mr. Talmadge began looking at the script in April, when Ms. Bruder Munafo invited him back to the Vineyard to perform Red. In 2007, he starred in Pure Confidence at the playhouse. He and Ms. Bruder Munafo have been trying to collaborate ever since.

Out of all of his works in the past 35 years, Mr. Talmadge has only played a painter one other time, in a play called Dream of a Common Language. Mr. Talmadge said that playing Rothko has been much more profound.

“He was complex, he could string ideas together, his use of language, and his quick is all a real experience for an actor to play. It’s not only a beautifully written play, but he is an incredible character.”

Play is based on actual event when Rothko was commissioned to paint murals at the Four Seasons. — MJ Bruder Munafo

Mr. Talmadge began teaching acting at the university level 10 years ago, at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design. He currently teaches acting, theatre history and acting for the camera at Mills College. He considers himself lucky that he is able to continue performing because he channels what he learns to his students.

Rather than trying to fully understand the characters they are trying to play, he teaches his students to learn their character by focusing on the message of the playwright. His character Mark Rothko in Red is no exception, he said.

“I don’t expect to fully channel this character by the end of the run. It is so richly written, I will always be finding new things every night. One of the joys of playing this character is that there will always be something new to find.”

Mr. Talmadge said that Ken is nearly Rothko’s intellectual match and a painter in his own right. The storyline has more twists and turns than the typical teacher-student arc.

“Ken is not a starry eyed kid,” he said. “The beautiful part of the play is his gaining knowledge from Rothko, but almost becoming the de facto adviser to my character by the end.”

Mr. Talmadge added that he and Mr. Mahoney have learned from each other during rehearsals, and that they have had fun doing so. This is the way acting should be, Mr. Talmadge said.

“There should be that kind of fun and naivete about it, even if you are playing a serious role.”

Red opens on Thursday August 11 at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse and continues through Sept. 3., Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. For information and tickets, visit