Bakersfield Mist

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By Stephen Sachs.

Directed by Kevin Christopher Fox.

Produced by TimeLine Theatre.

At Stage 773, Chicago.

Totally engrossing two-hander is a funny, thought provoking mystery about authenticity and what makes art.

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Set in Bakersfield, California in Maude’s cluttered with kitsch from years of Maude Gutman’s scavenging junk shops and yard sales (terrific set design by Jaffrey D. Kmuec with amazing prop design  by Mary O’Dowd.) Maude is a foul-mouth, heavy-drinking middle-aged divorcee who as a joke bought an “ugly” large painting at a thrift store for $3 to poke fun at a trainer park neighbor.  After being stuck with the painting since the neighbor threw it out on the street, Maude tried to sell it in a yard sale only to have a local art teacher from the local high school inform her that her painting could actually be a lost  Jackson Pollock original. It could be the “find of the century” so she invites a world-class art expert to determine if her painting is a Pollock.

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Maude is a working-class ‘every women’ played here by Janet Ulrich Brooks, one of the finest actress’s working in Chicago theatre today. She uses every female tactic from friendliness, to booze, to sex, to terror to assure that her elitist sophisticated art expert rates her painting a genuine Pollock. To Maude, her quest is about more than money.

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92 year-old Mike  Nussbaum magnificently delivers a complex performance as Lionel Percy, the New Yank art expert. He deftly explains the essence of art; how he uses “The Blink” to instantly discover if a an art work is authentic. These feelings together with years of examining thousands of art pieces makes his intuitive method of judging art to be accurate.

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The battle of wits over the painting covers more that the authenticity of Maude’s painting.  Class differences, personal tragedies and one’s place in the world all come into play in this marvelously written play. Humor, realism and the theory of art collide as Maude proves to me more than just heavy=drinking white trash. We also see how Lionel is forced to defend and define both his method of judging art and his knowledge of Jackson Pollock’s passion. These exchanges contain honest humor, rich art theory as well as elements of mystery as Maude’s research unfolds.

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Watching the fire works between Brooks and Nussbaum is a glorious treat. These two skilled players navigate through  Stephen Sachs’ well-constructed script with truthful representations of their gender and their social class. Ultimately, their humanity seeps out. Bakersfield Mist is the first “must see” production of the new theatre season.

Highly Recommended.

Tom Williams.

Jeff Recommended.

For More info checkout the Bakersfield Mist page at theatreinchicago.com.

At stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago, IL,  call 773-327-5252, www.timelinetheatre.com, tickets $38 – $46 – $51, Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2pm, running time is 90 minutes without intermission, through October 15, 2016.

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Stage 773

1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, IL