.Art & Authenticity in ‘Bakersfield Mist’

Live theater returns to Guerneville with the Pegasus Theater Company production of the Steven Sach two-hander, Bakersfield Mist.

Based on a true story, the play explores the conflict between art and authenticity. It runs through July 30 at Guerneville’s Mt. Jackson Masonic Lodge.

Maude Gutman (Noël Yates) spent $3 on a painting three years ago. While trying to sell it, she’s told it might be a lost Jackson Pollock. After looking up who Pollock was, Gutman begins a campaign to authenticate her painting. Without any provenance, this proves almost impossible. She finally contacts Pollock expert and ex-Met head curator Lionel Percy (Ed Browne). Intrigued, Percy arrives in her Bakersfield trailer to give his expert opinion on whether or not Gutman has a life-changing piece of art or a soulless copy.

music in the park san jose
music in the park san jose

The monologue-heavy script tends toward the pedantic. It also offers little in the way of novel ideas about what is and what is not art. What the play does offer is the opportunity to stage a small cast show using actors above the age of 50. For those less acquainted with the theatrical world, it might be surprising to learn that there are few roles of substance for seniors.

Yates is an actor one does not forget. There is something compelling about all of her performances that is hard to formulate into words. Maude’s kookiness wrapped around a core of iron plays directly into Yates’ strengths. It takes the audience from the adorable and goofy to a Tennessee Williams level of dramatic acting.

And while the opportunity exists to create a nuanced and layered character in Percy, Browne, under the leadership of first-time director John-Paul Goorjian, plays it safe. Although his choices are okay, with such a flawed script, they needed to be bolder to produce a compelling character.

It’s important to remember that Pegasus is a village theater with a wide range of experience, from absolute theater newbies to professional playwrights. And it’s unfair to judge this play by the same criteria as a regional or professional theater because those theaters, like Lionel Percy, are about art first and humanity second. Pegasus, like all small-town theater groups, will always be people first. (Full disclosure—I was its artistic director for four years.)

Despite its inherent flaws, there are worse ways to spend a summer weekend than hanging out at the river and then watching a live show where everyone in the room is truly excited that the audience is there and doesn’t treat them like they’re just a bunch of wallets.

‘Bakersfield Mist’ runs through July 30 at the Mt. Jackson Masonic Lodge, 14040 Church St., Guerneville. Fri-Sat, 7pm; Sun, 3pm. $20-$25. pegasustheater.com.

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