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Theater review: 'Bakersfield Mist' at the Fountain

June 17, 2011 |  6:00 am

Balersfield_Mist-1NC It's exhilarating in the extreme when a world premiere play strikes rich on every conceivable level.

Such is the case with Stephen Sachs' “Bakersfield Mist” at the Fountain. Sachs, who also directs, has crafted a wry two-hander that handles highbrow artistic issues while zinging in plenty of uproarious one-liners.

Sachs, the Fountain's co-artistic director, also proves canny in his casting choice.  Husband and wife acting team Jenny O'Hara and Nick Ullett are the kind of polished pros that take charge of their characters from the get-go.  Their performances are tandem tour-de-forces.

Based on an actual incident, the play is set in Bakersfield, the home of  boozy floozy Maude Gutman (O'Hara).  An out-of-work bartender and dedicated dumpster diver, Maude has proudly festooned her appallingly ugly trailer with her kitschy gleanings.  Now, her thrift shop purchase of a painting she meant as a gag gift just may turn out to be a genuine Jackson Pollock, worth in the neighborhood of $50 to $100 million.

When eminent art historian Lionel Percy (Ullett) flies in from New York to evaluate Maude's purchase, the clash of the titans begins.  The supremely supercilious Percy makes the mistake of dismissing Maude as a member of the slack-jawed masses.  But he turns out to be well-matched in his feisty, funny adversary, as evidenced by their prolonged and emotionally revealing interchange.

The superb technical elements – Shon LeBlanc's costumes, Ken Booth's lighting, Peter Bayne's sound, Misty Carlisle's props, and especially, Jeff McLaughlin's set design –  evoke a squalid, sun-baked backwater where alcohol flows freely but hope has dried to a slow drip.  Sachs' play touches chords from the profoundly personal to the intensely intellectual – a perfect marriage of emotion and ideas that is rare indeed.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

“Bakersfield Mist,” Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles.  8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays.  Ends July 31.  $25-$30.  (323) 663-1525. www.FountainTheatre.com.  Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

Photo: Jenny O’Hara, Nick Ullett.  Credit: Ed Krieger.

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