Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Bakersfield Mist
Olney Theatre Center
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of Hedda Gabler and The Man in the Iron Mask

Bakersfield Mist, Stephen Sachs' amiable comedy now at the Olney Theatre Center in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, provides a dynamic showcase for actors Donna Migliaccio and Michael Russotto. As directed capably by John Vreeke (with riotous fight choreography by Casey Kaleba), the comedy-drama considers the clash between two people of widely differing backgrounds on the field of art.

The play, inspired by a true story, takes place in the cluttered trailer home of Maude Gutman (Migliaccio), a currently unemployed bartender in Bakersfield, California. Daniel Ettinger's scenic design takes up the entire length of the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab, with seating on both sides; he has filled the space with "something someone threw away," as Maude says, including metal signs advertising beer, plaques displaying tacky slogans, "collector's plates" with pictures of bygone television stars, and beat-up pieces of furniture.

Maude explains to Lionel Perry (Russotto), an art appraiser from New York, that she spent $3 at a secondhand shop for a painting she considered hideous, as a joke gift for a friend. Then an art teacher she knew told her the painting could be a previously unknown work by Jackson Pollock, so—seeing as how she could use some extra money, not to mention recognition at a tough time—she has sought proof of the work's authenticity.

Naturally, the conflict between the rough-edged Maude and the rather pompous Lionel goes beyond whether the famous artist actually painted the work. Where Maude finds beauty in found and discarded objects (and is coping with a hidden sorrow that telegraphs itself early), Lionel goes into raptures in describing Pollock's technique of physical engagement with the canvas. In contrast, his method of determining the work's authenticity is silent and almost ritualized: the seated view, the close examination, the attempt to feel the "life" that only a real work of art exudes.

Both Migliaccio and Russotto have done notable work in the past and they are well balanced here, with sufficient personal appeal and magnetism to ease over the sometimes schematic plot.

Olney Theatre Center
Bakersfield Mist
May 12 - June 12
By Stephen Sachs
Maude Gutman: Donna Migliaccio
Lionel Perry: Michael Russotto
Directed by John Vreeke
Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab
2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road
Olney, MD
Ticket Information: 301-924-3400 or

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