Bakersfield Mist removes barrier between art and life
There is a barrier between art and life for those who shy away from galleries.
With Bakersfield Mist, at the Centaur Theatre until Feb. 26, celebrated Los Angeles playwright Stephen Sachs successfully removes it or at least pushes it aside. In this way, the two solitudes made up of the uninitiated and of those who are art devotees can reach across the chasm dividing them.
What results is a beautifully human meeting of the minds where Maude Gutman, a coarse former barmaid played by Nicola Cavendish, invites stiff-necked New York art expert Lionel Percy, interpreted by Jonathan Monro, into her Bakersfield, Calif., trailer to authenticate a junk shop find.
His horror at Maude’s surroundings is barely disguised, and it shapes his first impression of her, one that requires three-quarters of the play to dispel.
That is the anticipated climax of this meeting of disparate minds. What’s more of a surprise to Lionel is Maude’s eventually revealed ability to appreciate art, given that her décor is focused on a stereotypical painting of clowns and on the shelves of tchotchkes that others have discarded.
Maude’s impressions of Lionel are equally skewed, as she at first sees him only as a means to an end, and that is to declare her $3 splatter painting a real Jackson Pollock.
Both characters come to realize that it’s not as easy to sense a person’s soul from the get-go as it is to authenticate a painting using Lionel’s “blink” method.
This is an analytical tool that relies on the gut feeling produced by the initial glimpse of an artwork. As Maude points out before the two start to scratch the surface, he missed her when he blinked.
The audience enjoys the bumpy, humorous ride as her abrasive and his sarcastic verbal jousting reach fever pitch to the point of physical embattlement.
The two also reveal personal back-stories that clarify their temperaments and what drives them, culminating in some poignant moments. Cavendish paints Maude as crass yet perceptive, a three-dimensional portrait that endears her to viewers while it takes us a little longer to warm up to the tightly wound Lionel whom Monro skilfully reveals to have a passionate yet vulnerable side.
Centaur artistic director Roy Surette directs this 80-minute gem that he first staged at the Vancouver Arts Club Theatre last autumn, keeping the two-hander on the boil throughout.
Set and costume designer Pam Johnson renders the trailer delightfully tacky, complete with brown shag rug and a hodgepodge of mid-20th-century furnishings and kitchen fittings.
She’s even placed, just outside the trailer, a steer’s skull that conjures the skeletons in the characters’ closets. Lighting designer Conor Moore marks the passage
Both characters come to realize that it’s not as easy to sense a person’s soul from the get-go as it is to authenticate a painting
of time with his purpling sunset through the skylights. Scott Zechner incarnates with his sound the neighbour’s territorial dogs that are ready to rip the clothes off the pompously genteel visitor.
We can look forward to hearing from the “visitor” Jonathan Monro again, this time at the Segal Centre, where next autumn the former classical pianist will be penning both music and lyrics for the musical adaptation of Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater.
Monro’s father, David Weiser, (the actor’s stage name is Monro) and mother Susan gave him a foundation in music, in which he excelled, attaining Carnegie Hall by the age of 16.
He then developed into an actor who has trod the boards of Stratford. Continuing to keep his hand in music, Monro was music supervisor of the original cast recording of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz: The Musical.
Here’s hoping we see both Monro and Cavendish onstage again soon, because when Lionel leaves Maude alone with her thoughts, we still want him to turn around and come back in.
Jonathan Monro makes an impassioned speech about art in Bakersfield Mist at Centaur Theatre until Feb. 26.