Bob Goepfert Reviews "Bakersfield Mist" At Curtain Call Theatre
LATHAM - “Bakersfield Mist” is an imperfect play that overcomes its limitations to provide a pleasant night of theater. It continues at Curtain Call Theatre in Latham through June 11.
The play is based on a true story about a woman who buys a painting for three dollars (reduced from $5) at a junk shop. Originally purchased as a joke she comes to believe it is work by Jackson Pollack. If it can be validated as such it will be worth $50-$100 million. The woman brings in an art expert to examine the painting in the hope that his opinion will give her painting the credentials it needs to be sold on the open market.
Maude Gutman is an earthy, heavy drinking former bartender with a potty mouth. Lionel Percy is a stiff button-down art snob. Together they make a classic odd couple and over generous amounts of alcohol they begin to talk about their lives. In most fictional situations they would form a close bond and even become emotionally dependent. In “Bakersfield Mist” they don’t even become allies.
While it’s nice to see a formula broken, it does diminish the audience’s involvement in the play. Because Maude’s motivation for the painting to be validated is not purely financial, without an emotional component to the play the stakes are not really high. Indeed, in the course of the 75-minute production when Maude threatens extreme action it is hard to accept her behavior as truthful or believable.
However, that said, because of strong acting by Cristine M. Loffredo as Maude, you do believe and care for the woman. She is able to quickly define the woman as rough and unsophisticated. The terrific kitsch-filled set by William Fritz supports this first impression. However in what is called “onion peel-acting”, Loffredo reveals the woman layer by layer. She is a powerhouse as her display shows Maude’s determination to prove her instincts about the painting are more valid than is the opinion of the expert. And when we realize that her drive is based on the principle that honoring the worth of an object has more to do with authenticity than monetary value, we get a richer and deeper understanding of this crude but genuine woman who has been devalued by so many. It’s a superior portrait of an uneducated but very smart woman.
Howard Shaffer is her equal as the proud man who uses his academic credentials to avoid the fact that he is an emotional fraud. He depends on first impressions when judging a work of art but he erroneously believes the method he calls “blink and tingle” also works when judging people. Because Shaffer is so self-certain about everything it is a pleasure to see him fight to a draw with a woman who initially failed his test. Even if he is right in his judgment of art, he learns that individuals must be evaluated by more complex methods. And sometimes that method involves consuming copious amounts of Jack Daniels.
Even though there are times when the play gets bogged down with art history and the emotional swings and personal confessions of the character seem artificial, the production survives because the two actors create people in whom we believe and tend to care about. And that is not a bad way to spend time in the theater.
“Bakersfield Mist” continues at Curtain Call Theatre in Latham. Performances Thursdays-Sunday through June 11. 877-7529.
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record
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