The play is based on the true story of a woman who bought a painting for $5 at a thrift store, only to later find out that it might have been painted by Jackson Pollack, also the subject of a 2006 documentary. In this version of the story, Maude applies to an art foundation in New York City, who sends a representative named Lionel Percy out to her California trailer park home. The story plays out in real time, Lionel all business, and Maude offering him a drink and telling stories about her life. Lionel very quickly determines that the painting is not authentic, but Maude is not a woman who takes no for an answer. We soon find out that a past trauma may be behind her obsession with proving the painting is real, and that Lionel may have a few skeletons in his closet too. At one point Maude asks Lionel to give her an estimate of the painting's value if it were authentic, cajoling him to "be a person." That's what happens over the course of the play - what starts as a cold business transaction turns into a messy but real interaction between two people, who may not be as different as we originally thought.
|Jen Maren and John Middleton (photo courtesy of Gremlin)|
The Gremlin stage has been turned into an incredibly detailed replication of a trailer park home, filled with tchotchkes on every surface and "art" covering the back wall. The painting in question looks like it really could be a Pollack, or a good imitation. Kitchen area and living room are fully visible to the audience on three sides, the action well staged from all viewpoints. And once again, fight director Annie Enneking has choreographed a realistic tousle between the characters when things get heated. (Set design by Carl Schoenborn, prop and costume design by Sarah Bauer.)
Bakersfield Mist is the perfect little 70-minute play that's both seriously funny and deadly serious. It brings up, but never answers, questions like: what is art? what is authenticity? who decides the value of things? Maybe the value of art is simply what someone who loves it is willing to pay for it. In this case, that's $16-32, and well worth it.