Another person’s treasure

W hether a thrift-store find is a genuine Jackson Pollock painting ultimately is not the central theme of this more-complex-than-it-seems two-character play written by Stephen Sachs and directed by Doug Lloyd. Maude Gutman (most convincingly played by Rachel Oprea) lives in a California trailer park and is a woman of average education. Maude contacts Lionel […]

“Bakersfield Mist” at the Dayton Theatre Guild


Pollock’s or Bollocks? Art expert Lionel Percy (Charles Larkowski) consults with
Maude Gutman (Rachel Oprea) about her discovery.

 

By Jacqui Theobald

Whether a thrift-store find is a genuine Jackson Pollock painting ultimately is not the central theme of this more-complex-than-it-seems two-character play written by Stephen Sachs and directed by Doug Lloyd.

Maude Gutman (most convincingly played by Rachel Oprea) lives in a California trailer park and is a woman of average education. Maude contacts Lionel Percy (played by Charles Larkowski), a recognized New York art authority. Larkowski absolutely owns the character, full of his own importance, power, and art world fame for his impeccable accuracy in recognizing genuine Pollocks.

Director Lloyd, prior to opening night, expressed certain confidence in his cast and in himself. “I chose them and they are doing everything I’ve asked of them.” That they had their roles memorized early in the rehearsal process is amazing. They are both on stage for the entire eighty minutes of the play and their dialogue is constant and
essentially contentious.

Maude and Lionel are written as stereotypes, making both performances even greater achievements, bringing life and emotion fully realized.

The core of the story becomes more apparent as each faces the moral issue. Do you say and do what you believe is true or do you say the expected to save your own face and maintain your reputation? The painting becomes a symbolic metaphor. The plot has many unexpected twists and turns.

Much of the blocking keeps the two characters moving, sometimes almost circling, further enhancing their feelings. An early scene has Maude and Lionel examining the painting. They bend left, then right, then they angle away from each other mirroring movement. It is a fine piece of unexpected choreography. Subsequently there is a fight, also precisely choreographed, although we may not realize that.

The set, extending almost the full length and width of the open floor of the three-quarter rectangular space of the Guild is elevated about eighteen inches or so and gives the sense of a trailer. With the kitchen on the usual raised stage area and everything else in the extension, it seems quite complete. If ever there was a visualization of “trailer trash,” it is here. Patrick Allyn Hayes designed it.

Deirdre Root is Stage Manager and in charge of Props. She must have used everything in the Guild’s storeroom and a couple of thrift stores. It took four people to dress the set—Hayes, Root, Mark Mickle, and Rick Flynn, who is also the Producer.

Maude’s life is fraught with ongoing chaos, including an early exiting husband, a very troubled son, her own drinking problem and possible suicidal thinking. She’s recently been fired from her bartending job. She really, really wants that Pollock painting to be the real thing.

Lionel is a connoisseur. He loves modern art and has been at the Met’s modern collection, Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney. His impassioned monologue, building in emotion explaining what he felt the first time he got to go to a museum is a breathless lengthy stemwinder that drew stunned applause on opening night.

Larkowski said, “It is a literary play, full of three-dollar words. It has been important to find the right rhythm.”

Maude needs to protect herself with a tough exterior over a vulnerable and fragile interior. As the two consider the painting and its probable worth, the conversation turns to what people want to believe rather than what is true.

He says some 40 percent of museum art is not what it is said to be, even with provenance. So what do you believe? And what do you say you believe?

What is the impact and the effect of doing the moral thing? Or not?

Maude confronts Lionel with an issue she and her unseen brother have discovered about him. It isn’t exactly blackmail, but it does discomfort Lionel.

Ultimately these two people have met and found something that has meaning to each. The painting remains a focus, although its position is altered.

There is plenty of adult language, mostly the “F” word. After a while the words lose impact or…become totally offensive. There is a threat of violence that could be frightening. It is brief but essential to the plot.

Lighting Design is by John Falkenbach with Scott Madden as Lighting Technician. It is a subtle plot support. Sound Design is by K. L. Storer, with Rick Flynn wearing yet another hat as Sound Technician. Carol Finley’s costume choices help with the class distinction.

Larkowski said, “Many plays end ten minutes before the final curtain. Stephen Sachs has written a play that is essential and engaging up to the last of its eighty minutes.”

Bakersfield Mist runs through May 27 at The Dayton Theatre Guild, 430 Wayne Ave, Dayton.  Go online to daytontheatreguild.org or call 937-278 5993 for showtimes and ticket availability.

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Jacqui Theobald
Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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