When I first saw Jonathan Groff in Glee, I didn’t pay much attention to him. There is much young talent in Glee and he didn’t seem much different. But a couple of years later, he showed up in Deathtrap at the West End, and anyone who can go toe to toe with Simon Russell Beale, it’s worth keeping an eye on. In some ways, I was even more impressed when I saw him in the one off performance of the 24 Hour plays at the Old Vic a few weeks later. With uneven material and very little rehearsal (as it’s inevitably the case in occasions like that), he still made a great impression. Since then, he went back to New York to appear in the off Broadway production of The Submission (playing another, if quite different, playwright than the one in the Deathtrap), went back to Glee and also has another recurring role in the political drama series Boss.
His latest role on stage is not quite on british soil (as I would have liked) but the connection with Britain is strong: Michael Grandage goes back to John Logan’s play Red, directing it this time at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, with Alfred Molina reprising his Donmar (and Broadway) role as Mark Rothko and Jonathan Groff playing Rothko’s young assistant Ken (in the original production the role was played by Ed Redmayne). The press night was this past Sunday and the reviews make for interesting reading:
Charles McNulty at the Los Angeles Times: “Molina (…) drives the play with his titanic energy“, “Michael Grandage, whose astonishingly lucidity as a director never fails to impress me, stages the play with the cleanest of lines…”
Bob Verini at Variety: “Anyone doubting whether Rothko’s struggles could be made theatrically immediate hasn’t reckoned on Molina’s sublime technique“, “Jonathan Groff gives a thoughtful rendering of Ken…”
Paul Hodgins at the Orange County Register: “an act of unhinged passion and rigorous intellect balanced on a knife edge: the essence of Rothko’s art”, “Groff captures that growing self-assurance in artful ways. Watch for slight but cunning changes in the actor’s body language.”
David C. Nichols at Backstage: “Groff wields an acute interior palette with a technique that conceals technique“.
Don Shirley at LA Stage Times: “Alfred Molina is formidable in his embodiment of an imperious but still thoughtful master, and Jonathan Groff is a smoothly restrained presence as his young assistant and conversational backboard.”
Michelle Clay at LA Splash: “Red is a breathtaking pas de deux about the nature and purpose of art, and the place of the artist’s ego in this dance with his or her audience”, “Molina and Groff are brilliantly matched as mentor and student…”