note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
The plot behind Stephen Sachs’ play, “Bakersfield Mist,” sounds unlikely --- a cultured art expert and and unemployed, down-at-the-heels female bartender argue whether a large painting she bought at a flea market for $3 as a joke gift is a Jackson Pollock original worth $50-100 million.
Even if it’s a fake, she has been offered a few million dollars for the painting, which she refused to take, based on her principle --- she wants an expert to declare it’s a real masterpiece. Nothing less.
Sachs’ play, which New Repertory Theater and Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater are co-presenting through March 18 at the Arsenal Center for the Arts Black Box Theater, is based on the true story of 73-year-old grandmother, Teri Horton, of San Bernardino, Calif., a retired truck driver with an eighth grade education. Fifteen years ago, Horton paid $5 for a huge,abstract painting at a thrift shop as a joke present to cheer up a friend, but the painting couldn’t fit through the friend’s trailer door.
Like Horton, Sachs’ younger, coarse character, Maude Gutman (whom accomplished actress Paula Langton passionately portrays, with gumption) says she decided to sell the painting at a yard sale, until the local high school art teacher advised her it could be a Pollock original. In Horton’s and Gutman’s story, they contacted a forensics analyst, who discovered a fingerprint on the back of the painting, which proved to be Pollock’s.
But when Horton applied to the International Foundation for Art Research in New York for authentication, her painting was determined to be a fake.
Regardless, a group of Saudi Arabian investors offered Horton $9 million for the painting, while fictitious, fortysomething, divorced Maude announces to stuffy art expert Lionel Percy (well-played by Ken Cheeseman), two investors from India offered her $2 million for it. Percy has come to her trailer to verify the painting’s authenticity, which he categorically, undeniably, announces is fake.
Like Horton, despite Gutman’s humble circumstances, she rejected the investors’ offer, insisting it’s the real thing --- based on scientific proof. Gutman cares about the truth, not the money, she says, challenging Percy with, “What would happen to you if you’re wrong?
After a heartfelt, whiskey-laced conversation, Gutman cries, “You’re my last hope...I need your blessing,” but Percy refuses to compromise. “It’s a fake. Take the $2 million,” he says.
Director Jeff Zinn has zeroed in nicely on Gutman and Percy’s wounded personalities, with Percy’s prissy, snobby disdain for Gutman’s “trailer trash” grimy existence, foul vernacular and flamboyant appearance, yet her proud refusal to let him scholastically intimidate or belittle her. “New York is never going to approve of this painting, or you,” he sniffs haughtily.
Scenic designer Jiyoun Chang’s cluttered, junk-filled set and Anne Miggins’ costumes clearly define both characters.
Langton and Cheeseman portray compelling adversaries, whose qualities and personalities crisscross. Sachs’ subplot of art masterpieces, forgeries, and their values, is equally provocative. It’s enough to make viewers take stock of their own family treasures - or fakes.
BOX INFO: One-act, 75-minute play, written by Stephen Sachs, presented by New Repertory Theater and Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater (WHAT) as a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere, through March 18, at the Arsenal Center for the Arts Black Box Theater, 321 Arsenal St., Watertown. Performances are Wednesday, March 7,14, and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3,8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. with talkbacks, added performance on March 11 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $35; seniors, $5 off; student rush, $10. Performance times vary. Call 617-923-8487 or visit www.newrep.org.