By PAM HARBAUGH
ORLANDO — The difference between fake and authentic depends on your perspective…at least, so says Orlando Shakespeare Theatre’s engrossing and excellent production of “Bakersfield Mist.”
A relatively new play, “Bakersfield Mist” is a smart comedy written by Stephen Sachs. It was part of the National New Play Networks Rolling World Premiere initiative and presented on stage in a West End production starring Kathleen Turner.
No doubt, Mr. Sachs has created a deep, layered relationship between two older characters – a rarity indeed. It is filled with humor and the passion of ideas, brilliantly told by director Matt Pfeiffer and actors Anne Hering and Steve Brady.
In it, a trailer park home festooned with garage sales “treasures” becomes the odd setting for a confrontation between Maude Gutman, a bartender who has lost her job, and Lionel Percy, an uptight New York City art expert and former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
He has traveled to the Sage Brush trailer park in Bakersfield, California, because he has been commissioned by a foundation to verify Maude’s claim that she has a missing painting by Jackson Pollock. The painting, which she purchased for $3, could be worth in excess of $100 million. The title “Bakersfield Mist” refers to Pollock’s “Lavender Mist.”
While on the surface it may feel the play is an examination of art being in the eye of the beholder, it really goes deeper, inviting the audience to consider the difference between fake and authentic in their human forms as well.
When the two stand side by side, it appears that Marge is the authentic piece and Lionel is the fake.
Lionel, so very well portrayed by Mr. Brady, has his own dark side and says he has a passion to ferret out forgeries: “It’s easier to say something is fake than prove something is real.”
He rhapsodizes over seismic change — just as Picasso’s groundbreaking “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” set the art world on a precipice of change, Pollock’s work rearranged “the molecular structure of art.”
Mr. Brady brings his character to the brilliant edge in Lionel’s raw, universe-shifting, sexual/spiritual speech about Pollock. In the speech, Lionel equates Pollock’s canvases to a lover and then transcends into ecstasy over the sexually explosive nature of Pollock’s technique.
Instead of offering him a cigarette, Maude offers him a glass of Jack Daniels, which is the comic relief needed for the audience as well.
And there’s that “tingle” Lionel gets when he’s “standing in the presence of something authentic.”But you can’t get more authentic than Maude, who is painted to complex perfection by Ms. Hering. The character becomes multi-faceted and rich — brash and deeply hurt, ignorant and savvy, marginalized but proud.
She swills Jack Daniels and drops F-bombs as easily as she lights a cigarette. And, in pursuit of Lionel’s blessing of her painting, she’s not above offering herself to him.
Mr. Pfeiffer brings out the play’s nuanced truth and humor as well as its more gutsy moments, resulting in a theatrically satisfying 80 minutes. Vandy Wood’s scenic design pulls out the stops with a plethora of knick-knacks in the trailer home.
This is such a good play and a good production, wonderfully designed, directed and acted. You need to put this on your short list. Go see it.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “Bakersfield Mist” runs through Nov. 15 at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St., Orlando. Curtain times vary. There are also fun little offerings during different performances, such as paint lessons and paint parties. WATCH OUT— there is profanity…beginning with the very first line. So if you’re prone to count F-bombs at the movies, you may not like this. But it would be a shame to miss it just because of that…so put on your seat belt and get over it. Tickets begin at $21. Student rush tickets available. Call 407- 447-1700 or visit OrlandoShakes.org.