Batavia Players find art, humor in ‘Bakersfield Mist’

Sep 15, 2016

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and in the case of the suspected Jackson Pollock at the heart of “Bakersfield Mist,” so is authenticity.

The 2012 play, written by Stephen Sachs, mirrors a real-life case of a suspected Pollock spotted at a California woman’s yard sale. She had bought it at a thrift store as a gag gift, only to find the bright canvas couldn’t fit through her friend’s door.

As in the case of a Tonawanda man whose belief that he owns a lost Michaelangelo has been hotly debated in the art world, the possible Pollock owned by Teri Horton became the source of great interest, and “harumphs” from arts connoisseurs who traveled down several rungs of the social ladder to inspect it.

“Bakersfield Mist” distills the idea to two characters, portrayed this weekend at Harvester 56 Theater, 56 Harvester Ave., by co-directors Norm Argulsky and Peggy Marone.

Marone is Maude, an unemployed bartender already convinced she has stumbled onto a valuable masterpiece but has claims to scientific proof of its provenance. It sits in her trailer amid pink flamingos, beer bottle wind chimes and an emotional charge that pulls her tight to a canvas of bright slashes and splashes of paint.

“For Maude, her reason for wanting it to be real is because the painting represents her son,” Marone said. “Her son spent his whole life being told he was nothing, and when she comes upon the painting ... for some reason, that painting and the blackness of it, the chaos of it, for her, its what her son is going through.

“Proving that its real, has a lot to do with keeping her son alive for her.”

Argulsky is Lionel Percy, the last in a line of disbelieving art experts called to authenticate the painting. Professionally tarnished by once mistakenly buying a bogus statue for the Metropolian Museum of Art, he carries an aura of expertise that convinces him the painting can’t be legitimate.

“(Lionel) bases it all on his blink; I’m looking at the painting and it’s not a Jackson Pollock,” Argulsky said.

“Bakersfield Mist” won’t reveal who has it right, the director-actors expect the audience to at times feel that either side makes sense, but leave without a consensus coming from their parts.

In reality, the drip painting on stage is the work of Michele Stamp, who was arranging the set pieces Monday as Argulsky and Marone planned out some of the more physical manifestations of a philosophical argument between his arrogance and sophistication and her crudeness and vulgarity.

Looking at it, Argulsky and Marone become art admirers and critics. He considers Pollock as reconfiguring of the molecular structure of art. The more you look, the more you realize it’s not a Piet Mondrian thrown in the microwave and nuked till it explodes on the window.

“They were all planned out, he didn’t carelessly throw the paint, he knew what he was doing ...,” Argulsky said.

“Or did he,” Marone slyly adds. “If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, his beholders were influential.”

For the Batavia Players regulars, “Bakersfield Mist” is a break from dark dramas like “The Gin Game” and “No Exit.” They both loved it on sight for its humor.

“The audience isn’t sitting on edge of their seats, wondering what awful thing is happening next,” Argulsky said. “This is a different kind of drama. It’s very funny and also revealing about two very different people and two completely different ways of life that never should have met. But they do meet and will always have that impression of one another for the rest of their lives, because of this one meeting.”

The Batavia Players’ production of “Bakersfield Mist” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Harvester 56.

Tickets are $13 for adults and $10 for seniors and children and are available at the box office or online at www.showtix4u.com.

By JIM KRENCIK, Batavia Daily News