Sunday, November 27, 2016

Bakersfield Mist (review)

Spoilers Ahoy!

Forgive my pontificating, but there seems a link between fine art and theatre arts. Both require the audience's actual presence.  Movies and t.v., even audio books remain portable. But art and theatre (concerts too, come to think of it) don't really work unless you are actually there, present, taking in whatever is to be offered.

Bakersfield Mist touches on this idea, how we find ourselves moved and maybe even rendered raw by not just passively observing, but by participating.  In theatre, we breathe the same air as the artists as they create.  Just as when going to a museum, you get the real impact of a painting by walking up to it, seeing it in real time, sharing space with it.

All of which helps bring out the very wonderful, very terrible truths of humanity in this play written and directed by Stephen Sachs.

Maude Gutman (Jenny O'Hara) lives in a trailer park outside Bakersfield, California.  She welcomes a very special guest one afternoon -- Lionel Percy (Nick Ullett) an elderly art expert here to examine a canvas she purchased for a song.  She believes, rightly or wrongly, it an actual Jackson Pollack, which would make it worth millions of dollars.  What follows becomes far more than a clash of cultures between two supremely different people.  Their differences abound, of course!  Quite a bit more than what we see on the surface.

What grabs our hearts most of all, though, is how much they have in common.  Just to start, they both admire Pollack so intensely--despite the fact Maude thinks his paintings hideous.  Most of the time.  Every now and then, she sees something else.  Something almost beautiful.

Lionel comes to view her in much the same way.  He even says as much towards the end, assuring her that the very power and courage and vibrant life to be found in great art she herself possesses.

The journey these two take on the stage draws one in, amid esoteric discussions of art and forensics, terrible recollections of human failure as well as tragedies beyond control.  We become part of their conversation, as much a witness and participant as if our seats were in that trailer.  Indeed that is the point.  In live theatre, as with seeing fine art in person, we become part of what is happening in the moment.  Just as seeing a Jackson Pollack in the flesh beats out any and all gazing at photos, so living this time with Maude and Lionel becomes so much more than any recording could convey.

We see them.  We come to know them.  Even love them a little bit.  And wisely, we never once see the face of that painting.  No, that would distract.  The art we are here to see is the play, and that art sweeps us up.

Bakersfield Mist plays Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm until January 30, 2016 at the Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandnie), Los Angeles CA 90029.

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