‘Bakersfield Mist’ Tenacious Struggle for Meaning

Review of Bakersfield Mist
By Stephen Sachs
Directed by Argo Thompson and Kimberly Kalember

For tickets & schedule:
Luther Burbank Center for the Arts
Santa Rosa, CA
Left Edge Theatre
Tickets: $25 General Admission

RUN: November 17 – December 2, 2017
RATING: 4.5 of 5 stars

(November 17, 2017)

Bakersfield Mist - Left Edge Theatre

Maude (Sandra Ish) attempts to convince Lionel (Mike Pavone) that her painting is a genuine Jackson Pollock.

Sagebrush Trailer Park is cluttered with gaudy chachkies, milk carton furniture, frumpy decorative plates, and a Bigfoot Crossing sign courtesy of set designer Argo Thompson. It is the last place that a dramatic “Black and White” Jackson Pollock painting would be on display, yet that is what resident Maude Gutman claims to possess. Visiting art expert with impressive credentials, Lionel Percy, is rigidly pompous, unwilling to consider the possibility that a whisky swilling low-brow could possibly have a real Pollock next to her dreadfully vulgar clown painting.

A battle of wills commences over its authenticity, shifting between clever banter, effective parody of the stuffy pretension art enthusiasts can fall into, and darker glimpses into the reasons Maude is so set on her painting being genuine. In this tight single act play, the pace is exhilarating, building to a fever pitch as tensions rise. It finds a balance between amused chuckles and dramatic depth as Maude’s story unfolds.

Playwright Stephen Sachs is a master at crafting individual characters; Maude’s casual f-bombs and openhearted approach to conversation is contrasted with Lionel’s intellectual vocabulary of carefully chosen words and approach to social interactions.

Bakersfield Mist - Left Edge Theatre

Lionel (Mike Pavone) explains to Maude (Sandra Ish) that her painting is a fake.

Sandra Ish as Maude Gutman is a force to be reckoned with; she is absolute in her belief that the painting is real, and brings comfortable honesty to the role—it feels like Maude is a real person, not a character in a play. Despite the fact an expert is giving compelling reasons why the painting could not possibly be a Pollock, her unyielding faith is contagious, and had me wondering if maybe it was.

Mike Pavone’s Lionel Percy is easy to be amused by in early scenes, with his fussing over being a “fake buster” and unwillingness to shake Maude’s hand with more than his pinkie finger. He shines in the description of Pollock’s creative process, as unbridled enthusiasm breaks through the crust of academia to reveal an animated mania for the artist, leaving Maude and the audience staring with amazement at his transformation.

Bakersfield Mist is a dark comedy of prejudice, artistic passion, and the importance of believing in something, even if it is a piece of canvas covered in dripped paint. The dynamic duo of Ish and Pavone are mesmerizing; it is well worth the journey to Luther Burbank Center.

Beauty and the Geek in a Modern Fairytale Romance

By David Templeton
Directed by Carl Jordan
Marin Onstage
For tickets / schedule :
Belrose Theatre, San Rafael
Tickets: $25, $21 Seniors, $15 Students, $12 Children

RUN: October 27 – November 18, 2017
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

(October 28, 2017)

Pinky at Marin Onstage

Pinky (Melissa Claire) exchanges a quiet moment with David (Larry Williams).

Stories influence early impressions of romance, whether amusing family anecdotes or princesses in towers waiting for a prince to ride up astride a dashing charger. David grew up hearing tales of the persistence of true love, and its ability to overcome all odds. Pinky is determined to wait for the perfect man, and has a PC (Prince Charming) list of required attributes, such as tall, but not too tall.

Their youthful dreams are challenged when David sees her from across the room, backlit in glorious beauty, and is determined to prove his adoration, while Pinky considers him a friend who might check off a few items on her list, but holds no romantic attraction. Unrequited teenage love leads to madcap adventures through cemeteries, the mall food court, and culminates with a choreographed sword fight in full costume to Lord of the Rings music.

Melissa Claire is a radiant Pinky, along with a host of other characters, from a drawling surfer accent to hair twirling “valley girl” friend. Many of the scenes are a single actor interacting with themselves while switching roles, and for the most part it is effective, although there were places where it lagged.

David is being portrayed by both Jeffrey Weissman (October 27, November 10, 11, 17, 18 at 8:00 p.m.) and Larry Williams (October 28, November 18 at 2:00 p.m.) who bring unique perspectives to the character. I was present for Williams’ performance, and his warm enthusiasm created an instantly accessible David who was easy to root for, despite possibly going too far in his quest to get Pinky’s attention.

Pinky - Marin Onstage

David (Larry Williams) and Pinky (Melissa Claire) discover their friendship.

The play contains hints of “nerd” trivia like Dungeons and Dragons alignment recitations, causing stumbling over lines; playwright David Templeton is a wordsmith, crafting delightfully complex language that requires extensive rehearsal time to fully appreciate them, and he has the background to include accurate references explaining the difference between Lawful Good and Chaotic Neutral. Gary Gonser’s set design of castles and LARPing swords set the scene for this imaginative narrative.

Pinky is a heartfelt comedy drawing parallels from the 1946 film La belle et la bête which delves into the territory of love and friendship. While the carefully planned antics are highly diverting, Pinky has a touching message that while love is worth fighting for, it is also important to know when to stop and move on with someone else. Join Pinky and David as they navigate the difficult territory of friends who could turn into more, and the adorably awkward stages of first love.

‘The Rainmaker’ Finding the Space Between

Review of The Rainmaker
Written by Richard Nash
Directed by Patrick Nims
Sonoma Arts Live
For tickets / schedule :
Sonoma Community Center, Sonoma
Tickets: $22-37

RUN: October 13-29, 2017
RATING: 4.5 of 5 stars

(October 27, 2017)

Sonoma Arts Live - The Rainmaker

H.C. Curry (Montgomery Paulsen) comforts his daughter Lizzy Curry (Abbey Lee). Photo by Marina Fusco Nims.

Unrelenting heat oppresses the Curry’s ranch; cattle are perishing in the drought and tempers have worn to a thread, ready to lash out. Compensating for the powerless feeling of watching their home fall apart without a cloud in the sky or chance of rain, family members cling to lifelines of their own making. Noah’s rational view of the world becomes an obsession, while Jim finds himself swept into a whirlwind romance, despite the impracticality it poses. The household is on the verge of open conflict when a smooth-talking con artist arrives with wild stories of how he can make it rain for a mere one hundred dollars. On a whim, the father agrees, considering it a gamble worth attempting, and goes along with the stranger’s odd requests.

Playwright Richard Nash crafts fascinating arcs for each character. This is not a high drama play; The Rainmaker is an in-depth view of what causes human motivations and actions. Forced by circumstances to examine inner beliefs, the family is permanently changed by what they discover.

Lizzy’s story touched me, because despite modern assurances that it is perfectly fine for a woman to be alone, there comes a time when you wonder if perhaps it is due to being worthless and unattractive; being an “old maid” may not have as much stigma today, but it is still a difficult struggle that is often unacknowledged. Powerfully acted by Abbey Lee, Lizzy is not interested in outlandish dreams for her future, she has quiet hopes that appear to be slipping away. When Noah takes out his anger on her, shouting that she is plain over and over, Lizzy breaks down, wallowing in self-loathing. Bill Starbuck (Tyler McKenna) picks up the pieces, reminding her that the only looking glass that matters is what she sees in herself. McKenna maintains a confident exterior, revealing layers of self-doubt through body language and flashes of pleading eye contact with Lizzy.

Sonoma Arts Live - The Rainmaker

The Curry family gathers for a tense dinner. Photo by Marina Fusco Nims.

There is no weak link in the cast; Nick Gallagher portrays Noah’s grim desperation and scramble for a well-ordered structure in the family, Matthew Loewenstein’s File is hiding from the truth about his wife, pushing through his reluctance to speak out, Montgomery Paulsen is a soothing, caring father as H.C. and Nick Moore’s rash Jim radiates youthful enthusiasm and innocence.

Adding relaxing ambience through traditional cowboy songs, Rick Love as Sheriff Thomas has a pleasant, natural singing voice. He led an entertaining sing-along before the show with the audience laughing and clapping along. Scene transitions were enjoyable with his appearances to pass the time with favorites like “Tennessee Waltz” and “Get Along Little Dogies” on his guitar.

Director Patrick Nims utilizes Bruce Lackovic’s tiered, rustic set design for silent moments of rummaging through the kitchen, folding blankets in the tack room, and frantic clearing up in the sheriff’s office, without the need for dialog. Take a deep breath, sit back, and be present in this timeless story of self-discovery and hope. The Rainmaker challenges us to find a balance between dreams and reality, because in that space we can truly live.

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