It’s not often that two actors match each other step for step and give riveting performances, and in a comedy, it can be harder. Bakersfield Mist brings together powerhouse talents: Nicola Cavendish playing Maude Gutman, a trailer inhabiting middle aged woman, who comes across what she believes is the painting find of a lifetime. Rummaging through a thrift store, she thinks she has landed a Jackson Pollack original. And then we have the New York art authenticator/connoisseur Lionel Percy (played by Jonathan Monro), who has been sent by his art foundation to verify the veracity of Maude’s claim. He in his three-piece suit, looks at Maude for what he can see on the surface and that is quite enough for him to start with.
Maude: a feisty, small town and mostly educated by life and not otherwise, comes face to face with a snooty, proud and elitist art authenticator Lionel. The two couldn’t be more different. Their interaction is cordial at first, as Lionel explains the standard procedure of his evaluation and which he insists shall not be an appraisal. Maude does whatever she can in her limited means and charms, to make him feel welcome and hopefully persuade him to give her what she wants: a ‘yes’ certification to her Pollack painting claim.
As Maude begins to recount the story of her find and the painting is displayed before Lionel, the expected happens and he declares it a fake. This is not what the story is about though, it’s about what happens next.
Maude starts to show her true self and uses everything at her disposal to try and convince him to change his mind: she shines on comic timing, human authenticity and overall presence on stage that doesn’t let a moment of boredom set in. Lionel compliments her handily, as his elitism and snobbish expertise at art are thrown around liberally and oftentimes offensively. Maude takes it in her stride to a point, but then finally calls him out on his arrogant, self-involved snobbery. The gloves are off and then emotions begin to run wild, as old life stories and heart aches are shared. While Maude doesn’t let the ultimate goal out of sight, Lionel finally is able to confess to her that good and bad art in the modern context, is only a question of perspective and a bit of dressing up. Something that looks shabby can be cast aside, simply because it doesn’t look the part. This truth doesn’t waiver his evaluation of the painting, but says a lot about the world we inhabit.
As the alleged Jackson Pollack original stands centre stage throughout, Maude and Lionel’s humanity is slowly laid bare to the paintings depicted chaos. The essence of the play is surely that no matter who we are where we come from, our humanity is our only common and shared truth. This is a must see for the laughs and the bit of somber that the piece brings.
Bakersfield Mist runs at the Centaur (453 St-Francois Xavier, Montreal) January 31 – February 26. Info and tickets HERE.