Is she crazy or a hero? In our hit production of Bakersfield Mistnow playing at the Fountain, Maude Gutman owns a spattered painting that she bought at a thrift store which she now believes is a masterpiece by Jackson Pollock worth millions. Is it real or a forgery? Last Friday, thirty-two 5th grade students from Ramona Elementary School around the corner visited the Fountain Theatre to try their hands at creating their own abstract expressionist paintings in the style of Jackson Pollock. Says teacher Eric Arboleda, the experience was “priceless”.
The students gathered in the theatre for a lesson on modern art from Sarah Boulton, educator and coordinator of the day’s event for the Fountain. The group then moved upstairs, where a long table waited with paper, paints and brushes. The students were instructed to freely paint what the feel, to think of images that express their inner selves, not literal pictures. The students leapt into action. Grabbing brushes, the kids spattered and swirled their paints in a wild flurry of colors. Paint landed not only on paper. It ended up on the floor, on the walls, and peppered the kids themselves with bright colored freckles. Everyone had a blast.
After the paint session, the kids moved into the cafe for donuts and drinks. They relaxed on our outdoor balcony and enjoyed the beautiful afternoon sun. All agreed it was an extraordinary day.
Friday’s event was the third visit by Ramona Elementary School students in two years, part of an ongoing educational partnership between the school and the Fountain Theatre to offer an enhanced art experience for young people in our community. The event was made possible through Theatre as a Learning Tool, the Fountain’s educational outreach program making art available to underserved students.
Jenny O’Hara and Nick Ullett in “Bakersfield Mist” at the Fountain Theatre
It has travelled around the world and it is now coming home. Just in time for the holidays.
Bakersfield Mist by Stephen Sachs, the Fountain’s smash hit comedy that went on to see productions around the world including London’s West End, will return to the Fountain for a limited 4-week engagement beginning Nov. 19. Sachs will again direct, with Jenny O’Hara (Transparent, The Mindy Project) and Nick Ullett(As the World Turns) reprising the roles they created.
Inspired by true events, Bakersfield Mist is the story of Maude Gutman, an unemployed, chain-smoking ex-bartender living in a run-down California trailer park, who believes the painting she bought in a thrift store for $3 is really an undiscovered masterpiece worth millions. When stuffy New York art expert Lionel Percy arrives to evaluate the work, the result is a fiery and often hilarious debate over class, truth, value and the meaning of art.
“Stephen’s play has enjoyed success around the country and the world, so when Jenny and Nick became available, we jumped at the chance to bring it back,” says producer Simon Levy. “We live in such stressful times, and this play offers the perfect antidote — it’s very funny, yet also thought-provoking. Just in time for the holidays.”
Bakersfield Mist premiered at the Fountain in June, 2011, garnering glowing notices including a “Critic’s Choice” review in the Los Angeles Times which exclaimed “It’s exhilarating in the extreme when a world premiere play strikes rich on every conceivable level.” The production was hailed a “Go!” in the LA Weekly and a “Critic’s Pick” in Backstage. It played to sold-out houses for more than six months, rivaling only Sachs’ own Central Avenue as the most successful world premiere of a new play in the Fountain’s 26-year history. Bakersfield Mist opened on London’s West End starring Kathleen Turner and Ian McDiarmid for a 3-month run.Vanity Fair called Sachs’ play “Not to be missed… tackles large creative questions with well-timed zingers,” The Times of London found it to be “thoroughly entertaining… put a smile on my face and kept my brain buzzing for a good while afterward,” The New York Times labeled it “clever… a battle of wits,” and it received the 2012 Elliot Norton Award for Best New Play. In the U.S., Bakersfield Mist has been produced by Orlando Shakespeare Theater in Florida and in an extended run at the Olney Theatre in Maryland, where it is Helen Hayes Award-recommended and was lauded “5 Stars… provocative, fast-paced and cleverly funny” by DCMetro. The play is currently running in Chicago in a Jeff Award-recommended production at the Timeline Theatre which has been praised as “Highly Recommended” by the Chicago Sun-Times and “the perfect evening of theatre” by Chicago Theatre Review. Bakersfield Mist is now being produced in regional theaters across the country; it has been translated into other languages and is being performed around the world, including in Iceland, Sweden, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Scotland, Australia and Canada.
Set design for Bakersfield Mist is by Jeffrey McLaughlin; sound design is by Peter Bayne; props and set dressing are by Terri Roberts; and the fight director is Edgar Landa. The production stage manager is Emily Lehrer; associate producer is James Bennett; and Simon Levy and Deborah Lawlor produce for the Fountain Theatre.
Stephen Sachs’ other plays include Dream Catcher, Citizen: An American Lyric (adapted from the internationally acclaimed book by Claudia Rankine), Heart Song (Fountain Theatre, Florida Stage), Cyrano (LA Drama Critics Circle Award, Best Adaptation), Miss Julie: Freedom Summer (Fountain Theatre, Vancouver Playhouse, Canadian Stage Company, LA Drama Critics Circle award and LA Weekly award nomination for Best Adaptation), Gilgamesh (Theatre @ Boston Court), Open Window (Pasadena Playhouse, Media Access Award for Excellence), Central Avenue (PEN USA Literary Award finalist, Back Stage Garland award, Best Play), Sweet Nothing in My Ear(PEN USA Literary Award finalist, Media Access award, NEA grant award), Mother’s Day, The Golden Gate (Best Play, Drama-Logue) and The Baron in the Trees. He wrote the teleplay for Sweet Nothing in My Ear for Hallmark Hall of Fame which aired on CBS starring Marlee Matlin and Jeff Daniels. Sachs co-founded The Fountain Theatre with Deborah Lawlor in 1990.
Bakersfield Mist was created and produced at the Fountain Theatrein Los Angeles where Sachs is co-artistic director. The Fountain production, the first in a rolling world premiere supported by the National New Play Network‘s Continued Life of New Plays Fund, was a smash hit, earning rave reviews and running seven months including three extensions.
Inspired by true events the play asks vital questions about what makes art and people truly authentic. It won the 2012 Elliot Norton Award for Best New Play.
In the play, Maude (Turner), a fifty-something unemployed bartender, has bought a painting for a few bucks from the thrift store. Despite almost trashing it, she is now convinced it’s a Jackson Pollock worth millions. But when world-class art expert, Lionel Percy (McDiarmid), flies over from New York and arrives at her trailer park home in Bakersfield to authenticate the painting, he has no idea what he is about to discover.
In a press statement, Turner commented, “The shock and humor of diametrically opposed cultures with the transformative power of art – pure joy.” McDiarmid added, “I liked the idea and comic potential of two passionately opinionated cultural opposites engaged in a life-changing battle for the soul of a great painter.”
Nica Burns, co-producer of the play with Sonia Friedman Productions, Darren Bagert/Martin Massman and Chris & Kelbe Bensinger, added, “When we were lucky enough to hear Kathleen Turner and Ian McDiarmid read the play for us, the chemistry between these two great stage actors was thrilling. It has been eight years since Kathleen stunned London audiences with her extraordinary award winning performance in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? This is a fantastic role for her return to the London stage.”
Turner, who is currently appearing in the title role of Mother Courage at Washington DC’s Arena Stage (through March 9), has previously appeared onstage on Broadway in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Indiscretions, The Graduate, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and High. Other stage credits include The Killing of Sister George (Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven) andRed Hot Patriot: The Kick Ass Wit of Molly Ivins (Philadelphia Theater Center, LA’s Geffen, and DC’s Arena Stage).
McDiarmid, who is best known for his role as Darth Sidious/Emperor Palpatine in the “Star Wars” film series, has worked extensively in the theatre, including an 11-year stint when he was joint artistic director of London’s Almeida Theatre. He appeared there in Brian Friel’s Faith Healer, subsequently winning a Tony Award for reprising the role on Broadway in 2006. Other theatre acting credits include Life of Galileo for the RSC, Timon of Athens at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, The Emperor and Galilean at the National Theatre and Henry IV at the Donmar Warehouse.
The play will be directed by Polly Teale, joint artistic director of Shared Experience, for whom she has directed Jane Eyre, Brontë, After Mrs. Rochester, Bracken Moor, Mary Shelley and Speechless, amongst others. She co-directed War and Peace in a co-production for the National Theatre and Mill on the Floss. “Brontë” has been adapted as a feature film for Film Squared/Pathé.
Playwright Stephen Sachs
Playwright Stephen Sachs is co-artistic director of the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles. His other plays include Heart Song (Los Angeles 2013, Florida Rep 2014), Cyrano (LA Drama Critics Circle Award for Best New Play, Ovation Award nomination), Miss Julie: Freedom Summer (LADCC and LA Weekly Award nominations), Gilgamesh (Theater@Boston Court), Open Window (Pasadena Playhouse, Media Access Award), Central Avenue(PEN USA Literary Award Finalist), Sweet Nothing in my Ear (PEN USA Literary Award Finalist, Media Access Award), Mother’s Day, The Golden Gate (Best Play Award, Dramalogue) and The Baron in the Trees. He wrote the teleplay for “Sweet Nothing in my Ear” for Hallmark Hall of Fame which aired on CBS, starring Marlee Matlin and Jeff Daniels.
The London production will run at the Duchess Theatre, May 10through August 30. The design team includes scenic designer Tom Piper, lighting designer Oliver Fenwick and sound designer Jon Nicholls. Bakersfield Mist is produced in the West End by Nica Burns, Sonia Friedman Productions, Darren Bagert/Martin Massman and Chris & Kelbe Bensinger.
Bakersfield Mist is a work of fiction. Although based on actual events, the characters and events in the play are fictionalized and are not intended to accurately depict or resemble any actual person or event, living or dead. Names, characters, places and incidents have been changed for dramatic purposes.
Shhhh … it’s still a secret. But big news is coming later this week on the London opening of the hit comedy/drama Bakersfield Mist by Stephen Sachs. The all-star cast for the London production will be announced this week, as well as the director, venue and production dates. Tickets will go on sale immediately.
First created and launched at the Fountain Theatre in 2011 starring Jenny O’Hara and Nick Ullett, Bakersfield Mist tells the story of Maude Gutman, a middle-aged lady who bought a painting in a thrift store for three bucks. She’s now convinced it’s a long-lost Jackson Pollock masterpeice worth millions. The play unfolds when a world-famous art expert from Manhattan arrives at Maude’s trailer park door to appraise whether her painting is, in fact, authentic. The world premiere was a smash hit at the Fountain, running for 7 months and extended three times.
Just a quick note to say how much my daughter and I enjoyed your play, Bakersfield Mist. Since I love art, especially art from 1900 on, and especially the Abstract Expressionists, and Pollack. You had me before it even started. For my daughter it was her first “official” grown-up play. I just wanted to take a moment to let you to know I thought it was terrific, the theatre was full and the actors rocked it. May it travel far and wide.– Daniel Bortz (Dec 5)
Going to the theater can be a pleasure and such is the case with Bakersfield Mist currently at the Fountain Theatre. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe this production. But here are a few: Incredible script, brilliant acting, a performance that would easily win the hearts of the most demanding theatergoer. Move it to the Geffen or The Taper. The show demands to be seen. Thank you one and all. All the best. – Ronnie Greenberg (Dec 5)
What a lovely, thought-provoking, beautiful play!! My God, the performances were wonderful– Jenny O’Hara had us laughing from the beginning and near tears at the end. I was absolutely in suspense throughout about the painting–was it or wasn’t it?–and loved the resolution, which I didn’t expect at all. I am so impressed by the complexity and depth of [the writing]. So concise and with so much meaning packed into such a small space. So much to think about and talk about for a long time. I woke up happily thinking and wondering about some of the arguments in the play. All in all a wonderful evening–thank you! – Ellie Herman (Dec 3)
Thank you! Thank you! My sister and I really enjoyed Bakersfield Mist! What a great play, good writing and excellent acting by 2 great performers. We really enjoyed it. I can see why it has been extended again and again. – Karen Hougaard
Just a quick note to say that we (finally) saw the play last night (after four sold-out attempts) and loved it. The play was both very smart and moving and, I thought, really well-plotted. I also thought it was really funny. Jenny and Nick were both wonderful but, what was also great was that it has two terrific parts for older actors that should keep the play running for a long time to come, which I hope it does. – David Levinson (Dec 4)
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The critically-acclaimed new playBakersfield Misthas extended for a third time at The Fountain Theatre, through December 18.
Hailed as “Critic’s Choice” in the Los Angeles Times, the world premiere comedy, written and directed by Stephen Sachs and starring husband-and-wife actors Jenny O’Hara and Nick Ullett, has been playing to sold-out houses and earning standing ovations since it opened last June.
The imagined meeting of foul-mouthed, unemployed, trailer park-dwelling Maude Gutman, who believes the painting she bought in a thrift store for $3 is really an undiscovered masterpiece worth millions, and stuffy New York art expert Lionel Percy who arrives to evaluate the work, was inspired by a true story. The comedy/drama is a fiery and often hilarious debate over class, truth, value, and the meaning of art.
The Los Angeles production has received rave reviews containing superlatives such as “Exhilarating” (Los Angeles Times); “A triumph!” (Back Stage); “Delightful” (LA Weekly); “Exquisite” (BroadwayWorld); “Brilliant” (On Stage Los Angeles); “A delight” (StageandCinema.com); “Spectacular” (Santa Monica Daily Press); “Terrific” (Park La Brea News/Beverly Press); “A laugh riot” (Examiner.com); “Entertaining and provocative” (Buzzine); “Yum!” (CultureVulture.net); “Wow!” (StageSceneLA); “A knock out” (Reviewplays.com); and “A jewel of a play” (Frontiers). “Now I know why ‘Bakersfield Mist’ has been selling out every night,” editor Mike Napoli recently posted on PerformingArtsLive.com. To read all of the reviews in their entirety, visit www.FountainTheatre.com.
The Fountain Theatre production marks the world premiere of Sachs’ play. A second production recently concluded a successful run at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre in Wellfleet, MA; a third is scheduled to open at the New Jersey Repertory Company in December; and a fourth opens at New Repertory Theatre in Watertown, MA, near Boston, in February. Plans for other future productions nationwide and in the UK are underway.
The Fountain Theatre production of Bakersfield Mist is supported in part by the National New Play Network‘s flagship program, the Continued Life of New Plays Fund, which is a cooperative venture designed to ensure that new plays see future productions beyond the initial world premiere.
Now in New York City, the calm idyllic oceanfront of Wellfleet Harbor feels a universe away. One world slammed into another. From harmony to frenzy. The call of seagulls now sirens and car horns, the roar of waves now pounding jack hammers, the open clear horizon of ocean now vertical towers of cement and glass. The sky only visible between buildings. Like blinders on a horse.
Reviews for Bakersfield Mist wash in from Wellfleet like driftwood on the sand:
“Absorbing.” – Boston Globe
“Clever, witty and even poignant … a smart and insightful play not just about art and truth, but also about class differences … the dialogue swinging with wit and a zinging rhythm … the play is true to reality as it intelligently, yet subtly, examines class struggles, the aesthetics of art, the power of the privileged, the anger of the disadvantaged and the desire of all of us for self-worth.” – Cape Cod Times
“Wild and witty … Lively and smart, new play packs as much punch as a Pollock .” – Cape Cod Today
On this muggy New York afternoon, I briskly dart and dodge my way down 53rd Street to 6th Avenue like a tardy school boy. I have only a brief moment today between meetings. The moment is now. I must make an urgent appointment. With two paintings.
I dash into the Museum of Modern Art. Up the stairs, to the 4th floor. Post-Modern Expressionism. Wind through the bee-comb of exhibits and galleries, weaving past tourists and art-gawkers with cameras. Turn a corner, enter the alcove I’m looking for … and there it is …
One: Number 31 (1950) by Jackson Pollock is an immense canvas dominating an entire wall. I slowly approach, holding my breath. It is the first Jackson Pollock I have seen since writing Bakersfield Mist. I am coming home, full circle.
In the play, art expert Lionel says a Pollock painting “rewires your retinas.” It’s true. I stare at the expansive monolithic delirium in front of me and my eyes go through a kind of molecular transformation. I see movement, explosions, mad slashes of color. The painting not only rewires your retina — it becomes your retina, is your retina.. Ever see a color photo of the human retina? The pulsating colored lines, the high-charged circuitry, the webbed network of electric current? That is a Pollock painting. The human retina on canvas, made visible.
Seeing the painting is like paying homage to an old friend. Pollock has lived in my imagination for three years. Seeing his work in books or online is no match for the visceral connection of his canvas in person. Like how a movie or TV show pales to the thrill and wonder of live theatre.
I lean my face close to the canvas. Examine the drips, splatters and blotches. Like Maude in the play, I am searching for a fingerprint.
Upstairs, on the 5th floor, the other painting waits. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon(1907) by Pablo Picasso. It was when first seeing this painting as a boy that Lionel first heard the “Art Gods speak” to him. Changing him, and the world of art, forever.
One can not overstate the importance of this masterpiece by Picasso. Or how different it is from the Pollock. The master of one generation superseded by another. The Industrial Age exploded by the Atomic. Picasso is fleshy, primitive, tribal, animal-like. Distorted, frightening. The figures heavy and weighty. In the Pollock canvas, there are no human beings. It bypasses form to a realm beyond anything physical. It is light, airy, electric. You expect to hear the canvas hum like high-voltage wire. Alive.
Standing before these two paintings, I come full circle with my play. These two paintings, these two artists, in my imagination for so long, have meant so much to me and my play. Arriving now is like returning to old friends. As I approach, they see me coming. I hear them gently whisper to me, “Ah, yes … yes … here you are.”
Pray to the Art Gods. When they speak, listen. And give thanks.
The outside world goes away whenever I work on a play. More so, when I’m out-of-town. And when the town happens to be a soothing and idyllic seaside village like this, the dream work of play-making dissolves into the dream world around me and the outside world recedes from consciousness like a toxic cloud and evaporates.
I haven’t turned on the TV or read a newspaper since I arrived. The peril of Obama, the Dow dropping 600, the savage dysfunction of Congress, seems to exist in an alternate universe very far away. I know this will not last. I will have to return to civilization. Just, not yet. Not now …
I have never lived next to the sea before. The ocean is teaching me something. There are matters of Man, and there are forces of Nature. One is momentary, the other Eternal. In Bakersfield Mist, art expert Lionel describes a Jackson Pollock painting as “Movement made infinite. No beginning or end. Each painting just is.” The same is true of the sea. The ocean just is. Movement made infinite. No beginning or end. Enormous. Unknowable. Mysterious. Alive. The matters of Man, so small and temporary, like the discarded shards of oyster shell littered along the ocean side, broken and dropped by gulls.
I live in the world of theatre. The world of dreams. Where dreams can appear real, and reveal truth. I know dreams are not real, are not reality. Even so … Shhh … don’t wake the dreamer yet. Let him sleep. Let him dream. One more hour.
“It is impossible to make a forgery of Jackson Pollock’s work,” Time magazine critic Robert Hughes claimed in 1982. It is a telling comment that gets to the heart of Pollock’s authenticity as an artist.” Lavender Mist about sums up his most ravishing, atmospheric painting….Pollock used the patterns caused by the separation and marbling of one enamel wet in another, the tiny black striations in the dusty pink, to produce an infinity of tones.”
“It is what his imitators could never do, and why there are no successful Pollock forgeries: they always end up looking like…spaghetti, whereas Pollock–in his best work–had an almost preternatural control over the total effect of those skeins and receding depths of paint. In them, the light is always right. Nor are they absolutely spontaneous; he would often retouch the drip with a brush.”
Art critic Clement Greenberg, Pollock’s friend and a champion of abstract expressionism, suggested the name Lavender Mist for the painting originally called Number 1, 1950. Greenberg’s more evocative title conveys the painting’s strong atmospheric effect, though there is no lavender on the canvas. The painting is composed primarily of white, blue, yellow, gray, umber, rosy pink, and black paint.
Lavender Mist is nearly 10 feet long, a vast expanse on a heroic scale. It is alive with colored scribble, spattered lines moving this way and that, now thickening, now trailing off to a slender skein. The eye is kept continually eager, not allowed to rest on any particular area. Pollock has put his hands into paint and placed them at the top right — an instinctive gesture eerily reminiscent of cave painters who did the same. The overall tone is a pale lavender, maide airy and active.
detail of Lavender Mist
Lavender Mist is one of Pollock’s most important “drip” paintings. It attests to the artist’s pure virtuosity of paint handling. One can trace his rhythmic movements in the long arcs, staccato dribbles, or coagulated pools of color that accrue into a rich, shimmering interlace. With only a few hues he achieved a soft tonal effect, not by the actual use of lavender but with aluminum and salmon-colored paint. The weave of long black and white strokes implies an inherent linear structure, but the “allover” composition exhibits an even density throughout, with no discernible focal points. Pollock, who spoke of being “in” his paintings, left very literal traces of his presence in the multiple handprints at the upper edges of the canvas.
Pollock’s daring abstract work legitimized the convergence and mastery of chance, intuition, and control. Layered skeins of paint generate beauty and order out of seemingly random gestures.
Pollock preferred the fluidity of commercial enamel house paints to the more viscous texture of traditional oils. This choice allowed him to weave a more intricate pictorial web, flinging swirls of paint onto the canvas.
The composition of Lavender Mist is defined by sweeping lines of dripped and splattered paint; a threadlike net that sweeps across and fills the entire canvas. Pollock’s traceries anchor the painting: their bending, attenuated strokes and vaulting black and white strands establish rhythmic unity.
Total physical involvement of the artist defines this “action painting.” Pollock spread canvas on the floor in his barn studio, or on the ground outside, and then splashed, dripped, and poured color straight from cans of commercial house paint. It was essential, he said, to “walk around it, work from all four sides, and be in the painting, similar to the Indian sand painters of the West.”
Pollock's handprints in Lavender Mist
Perhaps the most compelling evidence of Pollock’s visceral and dynamic involvement in the creation of Lavender Mist is the mark of his hands in the paint. These handprints not only serve as a primitive stamp of ownership and creativity, they also emphasize the flatness of the canvas, thus underscoring the nonillusionistic nature of Pollock’s art.
In the play Bakersfield Mist, the painting Lavender Mist — and Pollock’s handprints on it — is used by Maude Gutman as proof to art expert Lionel Percy that the painting she bought in a thrift store is an authentic priceless masterpiece by Jackson Pollock.
Is she right? Or just crazy? See the play and tell us what you think!