Bakersfield Mist Revival Review - Jackson Pollack or Junk?

A clever, engrossing, and highly amusing tale of the possible, BAKERSFIELD MIST returned to the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles – and was then extended as a popular treat for theater-goers. Five years ago, Stephen Sachs’ brilliant comedy premiered at the Fountain and was the most popular new play in the Fountain’s 26-year history. This smash hit comedy then crossed the country – and the Atlantic – to delighted audiences in London, Sweden, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Scotland, Australia, Canada, Florida, Maryland, and Chicago. Clearly, Sachs did something right!

Jenny O'Hara and Nick Ullett - Photo by Ed Krieger

Based on a true story, BAKERSFIELD MIST is the tale of Maude Gutman, an unemployed, chain-smoking, ex-bartender living in a run-down California trailer park, who believes that a painting she bought for $3 at a thrift shop is really an undiscovered masterpiece worth millions. When the elegant but stuffy art expert Lionel Percy shows up to evaluate the work, a battle of wits ensues.

Nick Ullett - Photo by Ed Krieger

This thoroughly entertaining play is enhanced by the return of the original cast, talented Jenny O’Hara and Nick Ullett, who reprise the roles they created at the Fountain Theatre in 2011. The opinionated Lionel Percy (Nick Ullett) solemnly opines that “the Gods speak to you” when you behold great art – and that famed artist Jackson Pollack could “rewire your retinas” with his masterpieces and his ability to create “Kerouac on canvas.” Meanwhile, down-to-earth Maude (Jenny O’Hara) attempts to burst his egotistical bubble with her reliance on facts which she has amassed about the painting in question, as well as an emotional challenge to the pope-like certainty which the art expert projects.

Jenny O'Hara - Photo by Ed Krieger

Critically acclaimed playwright Stephen Sachs doubles as director for the production and does a fine job of hitting all the right notes. He obviously knows where he is going and how to get there. Jeffrey McLaughlin’s scenic design ably replicates the “trailer park” ambience of Maude’s home. Bill E. Kickbush’s lighting, Peter Bayne’s sound, and Shon LeBlanc’s costumes all serve to enhance the play. The entire production team deserves a thumbs up for their work.

Jenny O'Hara and Nick Ullett - Photo by Ed Krieger

The talented and experienced pair of actors in BAKERSFIELD MIST have certainly explored the script with care, although on the night of the review they may have failed to project with their typical skill. Despite a possible “off night,” however, the focus of the play remained; and the issues pinpointed were still relevant. The play continued to raise thought-provoking questions and tickle the audience’s funny bone at the same time. Let’s hope that another five years won’t be required before BAKERSFIELD MIST is again revived. The play’s timelessness, universality, and focus on hope will remain forever meaningful.

Jenny O'Hara and Nick Ullett - Photo by Ed Krieger

BAKERSFIELD MIST runs through January 30, 2017, with performances at 8 p.m. Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays. The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90029. Tickets range from $15 to $35, with pay-what-you-can every Monday night. For information and reservations, call 323-663-1525 or go online.

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