By JACK LYONS,
The world of theatre can become a transformative experience for many in the audience as each person views the production through different lenses at the same time. What is funny to one audience member may be off-putting to another.
CV REP, one of the leading Equity theatre companies in the Coachella Valley, re-opened their COVID-interrupted production last weekend in what turned out to be one of a near flawless, intriguing comedy penned by playwright Stephen Sachs back in 2011, entitled Bakersfield Mist.
Sachs’ thought-provoking comedy with an edge, also acts as a metaphor on how the world of art approaches the thorny problems of dealing with art fraud and verifiable authenticity and how our political system is the opposite in its execution regarding the issues of fraud and authenticity. Theatre productions also can make for strange bedfellows too.
Alas, the art world is constantly being plagued with a plethora of “newly discovered” art masterpieces that have been gathering dust for years in the attics and basements of the Auntie Ems of the world. Now, thanks to TV’s “Antiques Roadshow,” viewers who purchased old paintings at garage sales for a few dollars or received family heirloom paintings are hoping their ‘treasures’ will be like winning the lottery.
Along comes Martha Gutman, (Stephanie Erb) a potty-mouthed, ex-bartender, now out of work, who upon closer examination back at her Trailer Park home, claims that her three dollar purchase of a painting from a friend is an authentic Jackson Pollock worth millions.
This claim sets in motion a face-to-face meeting and confrontation with New York City professionally certified art expert and recognized Jackson Pollock authority is snobbish Lionel Percy (Arthur Hacket) who has flown to Bakersfield from New York to lock horns over Martha’s Pollock authenticity claim.
“It’s not a Jackson Pollock” says Lionel. “Yes it is!” counters Martha. “No it isn’t.” “Yes it is!” This thinking person’s comedy is more than a negotiation of whether it’s an authentic Jackson Pollock painting. It’s a reflection and an echo of how America has been subtly changing its values system without anyone paying attention or objecting.
As the whiskey flows during their meeting, Martha keeps on coaxing Lionel to give her a break and certify that her painting is a genuine Pollock which leads to more conversation about ethics and rules governing authentication and honesty. This is a comedy, but Sachs’ compelling and insightful dialogue and plotline has the audience in the thrall of actors Stephanie Erb and Arthur Hacket.
The onstage chemistry between Erb and Hacket is downright palpable, and rightly so. They are married to one another in real life, and it’s a joy to watch these two pro’s strut their uncommon skills and talent under the whip smart staging and direction of Ron Celona, CV REP’s founding artistic director. His pacing is spot-on for a two character play, which nicely zips along at 75 minutes. There is no intermission.
One of the strengths of CV REP productions is the experience and the wizardry of the creative technical staff led by director Celona. Most are award- winning, skilled artistic professionals: Emmy winning set designer and props creator Jimmy Cuomo along with lighting designer Moira Wilkie Whitaker, veteran of 20 years as the lighting director for the Annenberg Theatre in Palm Springs; Broadway and Tony-nominated sound designer Cricket Myers; award-winning costume designer Frank Cazeres; and perennial Desert Theatre League (DTL) Award winner and hair and makeup designer Lynda Schaeps completes this very formidable creative team. Paul Tenaglia stage manages the production.
The twist in this 21st century, two character, street vernacular dialogue spoken by the actors in this intriguingly written and sensationally performed live stage play is that it is actually based on a true event concerning a Jackson Pollock painting claim several years ago.
Note: Bakersfield Mist is a play about adults for adults. There are a boatload of expletives being hurled from the stage. So perhaps, one should consider leaving grandma and the kiddies at home.
Bakersfield Mist closes this Sunday December 12 following the 2 p.m. matinee performance. For ticket information to this must-see production, contact the CV REP box office at 760-296-2966 or go online to: www.cvrep.org for additional information.