"When someone says [they] do high school plays, people have no idea," he said. "The whole atmosphere at BSA is very professional. The expectations are the same. The only difference is you don't get paid."

One of the expectations placed on budding actors is that they immerse themselves in their role ands everything that entails.

"I learned how to research at BSA," Berryman said. "And my love of research guided me through high school and college. It's still a constant for me, finding all I can about the time period of a play. It's just like Rothko says in 'Red': You can't be an artist until you're civilized."

Before leaving New York to start rehearsals, the actor visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art to soak up some of Rothko's mature paintings, with their distinctive color fields.

Once in Baltimore, Berryman checked out the Baltimore Museum of Art's bold Rothko work, "Black Over Reds." He also joined Nelson and Hicken on a field trip to Washington to visit the Rothko Room at the Phillips Collection, the only museum with an installation of Rothko's paintings designed in consultation with the artist.

"That was wonderful when we were all sitting side by side there," Hicken said. "So much happens when you're looking at those canvases. But you're limited to eight minutes inside the room. We had to keep going out and coming back in."

"If Rothko was running the museum," Berryman added, "I'm sure he'd say you need to be in there for at least an hour and a half."

Berryman found that the paintings did what the character of Rothko says they do in the play: "They ebb and flow and shift, gently pulsating. The more you look at them, the more they move. They float in space. They move."

The play is set in the late 1950s, when Rothko surprisingly accepted a commission for paintings to adorn a restaurant in New York. Why he changed his mind is an essential element of the drama, which digs into the heart of his philosophy about the purpose and potential of art.

"Rothko was looking for this visceral experience," Berryman said. "And as an actor, I've always been about a visceral experience in the work. When people come up to me and say, 'That was nice,' I hate that. I want them to feel something."

tim.smith@baltsun.com

If you go

"Red" opens Wednesday and runs through Dec. 8 at Everyman Theatre, 315 W. Fayette St. Call 410-752-2208, or go to everymantheatre.org.