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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
That's cause for confetti and streamers. Before the Fountain Theatre moves into its "season of social action" (which includes the world premiere of Robert Schenkkan's Building the Wall), Fountain administrators Sachs, Deborah Lawlor and Simon Levy have given their audiences a tonic.
As straightforward and easily digested as may seem, it's not as simple a tale as it may seem. However you take the play, the synergy between Jenny O'Hara as a trailer-trashy dreamer and Nick Ullett as the highbrow art maven who controls her fate makes for the kind of gold that should not be overlooked simply because these two actors make it look so very easy.
Maude Gutman (O'Hara), a middle-aged ex-bartender with a sailor's mouth and a ton of flea market crap cluttering up her Bakersfield trailer, has gotten her hands on a painting that someone has convinced her could be a lost Jackson Pollock. She has scraped together the not-insubstantial fee to bring Lionel Percy (Ullett) across the country from New York either to verify the work's authenticity or to tell her it's not a Pollock. If the former happens, Maude's a millionaire several times over. Otherwise, she's back where she started, which as Maude might say, ain't no $%*#! paradise.
Lionel sports an expensive suit, snooty self-important airs and barely disguised contempt at this ridiculous woman and her champagne dreams. And he's got a little bit of a goofy streak himself. When he sees the painting, Lionel does a ritualistic dance and even sniffs the canvas. Lionel renders his judgment quickly; not much suspense here, and the play takes off from that pronouncement.
Maude, lonely, needy and hitting the sauce, basically refuses to let the man leave. Stocked to the rafters with décor that only an inveterate garage sale-r would possess, Jeffrey McLaughlin's set is a bit of magic all by itself and Bill E Kickbush works some smooth lighting effects to help bring the painting to life.
The possible-Pollock is not the only item in the play whose value is being called into question. Maude's life is, if not exactly in ruins, pretty close. If the painting's worthless, Maude figures, then probably so is she. Lionel doesn't want the added responsibility of validating a human life. He just came for the art.
Sachs directs his play mostly as a comedy with liberal doses of ruefulness that do not detract from the fun. The laughs are plentiful, and not always at the expense of too-easy targets.
We are permitted both to squirm over what Maude puts Lionel through and also to slide over to her side when the stakes change. Perversely or otherwise, Bakersfield Mist is ultimately a play about discovering and appreciating art, whatever form it may take.
O'Hara, with her bright day-glo wardrobe (nicely realized by Shon LeBlanc) and Shirley MacLaine hair moves easily through a role that was written for her. Ullett's Lionel nails the snobbery without leeching out the character's basic humanity. We enjoy watching him trapped in a room, dealing with ever-flowing scotch and cocktail weenies, all the while figuring out how to solve a problem and do the right thing.
O'Hara and Ullett are offstage husband and wife, so they've been living with and presumably deepening these characters for years. If somebody ever has the sense to film Bakersfield Mist (most likely for TV), let's hope they'd keep the two actors and preserve their performances. Together these two and this quite delightful play are a small work of art.
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Written and directed by Stephen Sachs
Cast: Jenny O'Hara and Nick Ullett
Set Design: Jeffrey McLaughlin
Costume Design: Shon LeBlanc
Lighting Design: Bill E. Kickbush
Sound Design: Peter Bayne
Props Design: Terri Roberts
Fight Director: Edgar Landa
Production Stage Manager: Emily Lehrer
Plays through February 25, 2017 at the Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles (323) 663-1525, www.FountainTheatre.com
Running time: One hour and twenty minutes with no intermission
Reviewed by Evan Henerson
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