Review by Yasmin Elahi
They say truth is stranger than fiction and Bakersfield Mist proves just that. A quirky play that follows the story of Maude Gutman, a fifty-something unemployed bartender who believes she bought a genuine Jackson Pollock for $3 in a thrift shop. Written by Stephen Sachs, the play is a witty and entertaining journey for truth in a skeptical world.
Lighting design by Geoff Squires was unobtrusive yet effective. The warm lighting evoked sunny days and blistering heat. The changes were subtle and underscored the action well. The lighting fade which concluded the final scene was striking and brought the play to a powerful end.
Set design by Bill Haycock was charming. The intimate stage of Ad Astra’s theatre was transformed into the inside of Maude’s trailer. Cozy and lived in, the orange walls were littered with artworks and shelves brimming with knick knacks and trinkets. Gaudy and tacky, the set reflected Maude’s personality and style wonderfully. The inclusion of a ceiling on the set further enhanced the cluttered trailer aesthetic. Details such as knitting under the coffee table and plants outside the door were convincing and believable touches.
Director Jennifer Flowers did well to block this two-hander on such a small set. With limited room to play in, the direction for the most part felt realistic. The only drawback was having Maude pick up cigarettes and carry them across the room, only to put them down again without so much as lighting them. Small moments that shattered the believability of the play. However, the actors’ use of the space was dynamic and never felt stagnant.
Fiona Kennedy played the role of Maude with gusto. At times, especially at the beginning of the play, her performance felt overacted. She pushed the comedic aspects of uneducated Maude to the maximum which led to the performance feeling both physically and vocally like a caricature. As the play progressed, her performance settled and Kennedy’s delivery of her monologue about her son had some very earnest moments. It is evident that Kennedy is a capable actor, this role however was overdone.
Steven Grives encompassed the role of art critic Lionel Percy with control. His command of the role, accent, physicality and vocal dynamics are to be commended. From the moment he stepped foot on the stage he was totally immersed in his character. Uppity, high-brow and somewhat stodgy, he provided a wonderful foil to Kennedy’s over-the-top Maude. Grives’ monologue about the beauty of art was touching and powerful, despite the fact the music which underscored part of it served more to distract the audience than enhance the spoken word. Overall, Grives portrayal of Percy was well-rounded, forceful and imposing.
This juxtaposition of both characters and the tension between the two carried the story along at a jaunty pace. The ninety-minute performance with no interval did not drag for a moment. Each character underwent an emotional journey and perhaps learnt something from their counterpart. The rapport between the two increasing as the play progressed.
Overall, Bakersfield Mist is a play not only about the wonders of art, but about humanity, truth and authenticity. No matter what life one has lived, there is always something that can be learned from others. Under the direction of Flowers, the actors brought heart and charm in spades and perhaps gave the audience a newfound appreciation of art.