Bak­ers­field Mist re­moves bar­rier be­tween art and life

The Canadian Jewish News (Montreal) - - Jewish Life - by Heather Solomon For tick­ets, call 514-288-3161 or visit www.cen­tau­rthe­atre.com.

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.

DAVID COOPER PHOTO

Jonathan Monro makes an im­pas­sioned speech about art in Bak­ers­field Mist at Cen­taur The­atre un­til Feb. 26.

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