‘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.

‘Steel Magnolias’ is a Haven of Compassion

Review of Steel Magnolias
By Robert Harling
Directed by Beulah Vega

For tickets & schedule:
6th Street Playhouse
Santa Rosa, CA
Tickets: $28-33, $23-28 Ages 62+, $20 Under 30

RUN: October 20 – November 5, 2017
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(October 20, 2017)

Steel Magnolias - 6th Street Playhouse

Truvy (Jennifer Peck) discusses Shelby’s (Ellen Rawley) dialysis treatments. Photo by Eric Chazankin.

On the surface, Steel Magnolias is a lighthearted gathering of women in a salon, discussing whether their colors are Autumn or Spring. Underneath is a hinted darkness that gains power, threatening their lives, and the pink draped beauty parlor transforms into a refuge of support and understanding. Playwright Robert Harling based the story on his sister, Susan, who passed away from complications after giving birth as a type 1 diabetic, and it was adapted into several popular films.

In the classic Southern town of Chinquapin Parish, Truvy is the hair primping queen, ready with a smile or tears as needed for her beloved customers and friends. Wandering into her shop with a shady past, Annelle is welcomed with open arms, despite her sudden obsession with “born again” Christianity. Affluent Clairee appears to have gentle poise, but enjoys practical jokes, and has saintly tolerance for rough around the edges Ouiser and her bitter commentary. The play opens with Shelby’s wedding preparations and her well-intended argument with M’Lynn, her mother, over whether baby’s breath belongs in an elegant hairstyle. Their relationship is a ping pong match of anger and tenderness.

mollie boice portrays Ouiser as hiding a romantic soul under layers of gall and sarcastic remarks, clomping about while discovering just the right moments to slip in a humorous look or reaction. Effervescent Jennifer Peck (Truvy) gives continuity to the play with her reassuring presence. The cast is superb, and Jill K. Wagoner’s anguish as M’Lynn in the final scene was heart-breaking, leading to an impactful denouement.

Steel Magnolias - 6th Street Playhouse

Gail Reine’s costume designs are classic 1980s with tapestry vests, puffed sleeves and vivid colors. Sam Transleau’s set has echoes of Evangelical church banners surrounding a lounge that shifts décor as time passes, covered in gaudy Christmas decorations or crocheted Kleenex boxes.

Director Beulah Vega creates a realistic atmosphere of women who are far from perfect, but stalwart in their affection for each other, ready with a stern lecture or comforting shoulder to cry on. Life is messy, and Steel Magnolias shows that it is more important to be there for each other, rather than attempt to fix the situation alone. Hairspray clouds the air in this hopeful picture of six extraordinary women at 6th Street Playhouse.

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