Class and culture clash and collide to comedic heights in Stephen Sachs’ two-hander show, Bakersfield Mist, which opened this weekend at Olney Theatre Center.
Dexterously directed by DC veteran John Vreeke and headlined by Olney Theatre Center Artistic Associates Donna Migliaccio and Michael Russotto, Bakersfield Mist is a sassy drama inspired by news accounts of a woman who purchased what she hoped was a Jackson Pollock painting in a thrift store and whose quest it was to authenticate the piece.
Set on a clutter-filled trailer, packed with sundry kitschy knick-knacks,(masterfully designed by Daniel Ettinger), showcased with effective lighting and sound designs by Colin K. Bills and Christopher Baine, Maude Gutman (convincingly portrayed by Migliaccio) is a middle-aged, profanity-spewing unemployed bartender who is anxious to prove the authenticity of the posited Pollock.
A former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, hailed as the “Vatican of art” in the play, and an expert from the International Foundation for Art Research in New York, Lionel Percy (Russotto), visits Maude’s trailer to inspect the painting and determine if the piece is real or if it is a replica. Supercilious and swaggering, Lionel fancies himself the ultimate “fake buster.”
Inevitably, as the two spar over the painting’s authenticity, the definition of art and what art should be and do is explored. Lionel’s richly-textured depiction of the dissimilarity between the hollowness of a drip-and-splatter painter who mimicked Pollock, and the magnificent spirit, intensity and allure of Pollack, which Russotto embodied and delivered with great gusto, gives pause and propels contemplation of personal elucidations of art.
While Lionel and Maude banter and battle about the purpose of art and the shared experience that it can create, it becomes palpable that this painting has impelled Maude with renewed hope and optimism that she desperately needed in her lackluster life. She “knows” that the painting is authentic just as much as Lionel “knows” that it is not. Although she has reasons for her belief (some logical, some intuitive), they mean far less than the basic fact that she does truly believe; something that would have been nearly impossible were it not for the power of art she now holds.
Provocative, fast-paced and cleverly funny, Olney Theatre’s Bakersfield Mist packs a riotous punch, elevating a comic debate about the authenticity of a painting to a reflective and relevant critique about the haves and have nots with smart, edgy dialogue, and a tingling bite.
Running Time: Approximately 75 minutes, with no intermission.