The Arts Club Theatre’s latest production is Bakersfield Mist, a finely-tuned comedy by award-winning playwright/director Stephen Sachs. This one-act show explores the art world as seen through the eyes of two characters: a 50-something broke woman living in a trailer park and a highly-skilled art consultant and curator.
Having had a few bad turns in life, Maude Gutman’s living in a world of thrift store kitsch, her Bakersfield, California trailer park home filled with everyone’s garbage, as she refers to it.
There is one thing however that she highly prizes — a purportedly long-lost painting by Jackson Pollock, Lavender Mist.
She’s barely got a pot to piss in, but her brother’s apparently put up the funds to have famed art authentication expert Lionel Percy flown in from the Big Apple to find out whether Maude’s three-dollar find is truly a Pollock.
Bakersfield Mist is based on the true story of Teri Horton, an ex trucker who purchased a painting in a San Bernardino junk store for five bucks, later discovering that it could be a Jackson Pollock potentially worth millions.
The audience gets a good taste of Maude from the very start: she enters her 70’s mismatched kitchen and living room, lights a cigarette, pours a whiskey and gets her foul-mouthed dialogue in full swing.
Once Lionel enters the picture, it’s obvious that one of the play’s key themes is class divide (he’s arrived by company jet and had trouble finding her place from the GPS in the limo).
Maude’s one tough cookie: a former bartender, she’s now unemployed, moving along in life as best she can, following a failed marriage and the tragic loss of her son. She may not be particularly brilliant, but she knows what’s what.
And so begins her pleading to know whether this painting is the real deal. Watching Lionel analyze the painting in Maude’s kitchen is as funny as Maude’s preparing the painting to be unveiled.
Once it’s become clear (to Lionel) that the painting is not an authentic Pollock, Maude tries many approaches (brilliant execution by Nicola Cavendish!) to get Lionel to change his mind and mark the “yes” box on his official authentication form.
The forgery discussion goes on and on to more laughs each stand firm on their beliefs. Eventually, Maude finds a willing listener in Lionel, and begins to pour the two of them drinks as the conversation unfolds and we learn the stories behind each character.
Jonathan Munro is especially fabulous during one particular scene where he passionately describes Pollock’s process as paint-splashing visuals are splattered onto the entire stage in an orgasmic frenzy, courtesy of video designer Michael Sider.
Pam Johnson’s set is filled with kitschy junk from room to room. A panel surrounds the stage, well suited to show projected masterpieces during key moments of the story. Additionally, Johnson’s captured Maude’s bleached hair and second-hand wardrobe as well as Lionel’s three-piece grey suit and prim look.
These two characters work magic on the stage; Bakersfield Mist is honest, hilarious and joyful to watch. Don’t miss it.
Directed by Roy Surette, Bakersfield Mist continues at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage through November 20. Photos by David Cooper.