There are few things more authentic that life in a Bakersfield trailer park, but how blurred is the line when you throw a possible priceless artwork into the mix?
That's at the heart of "Bakersfield Mist," the show opening this weekend at Stars West Comedy Theater. The 2014 play by Stephen Sachs was inspired by the real tale of a woman who claimed she bought a real Jackson Pollack painting for $5 at a thrift store. The best-known production — in London's West End in 2014 — featured actor Ian McDiarmid as art appraiser Lionel Percy and Kathleen Turner as Maude Gutman, playing exactly the type of brassy lady Bakersfield is known to produce.
In the actual Bakersfield production, Travis McElroy plays the world-class expert and Julie Gaines is the fifty-something unemployed bartender who thinks she found a lost masterpiece by the famed abstract expressionist.
Director Vickie Strickland said she was drawn to the story of a woman whose main desire is to be listened and taken seriously.
Like Maude, "we all look for validation of who we are, to look for those truths no matter what our station in life is or where we are," Strickland wrote in an email. "We all have struggles and demons, so to speak, so looking for that grain of truth through our flaws and imperfections can cause us to have a greater meaning and an acceptance of ourselves and others as we go through life."
While admitting that Bakersfield "always seems to be the butt of jokes in California," the director said that the city doesn't get such a bum rap in this show.
"You would think that the trailer park, ex-bartender with a trashy mouth would be a negative connotation of Bakersfield, but it doesn't come off that way," she said. "Maude is a real, living, breathing person and not a cliche. I think to have the title as being placed here in Bakersfield is kind of nice."
Gaines and McElroy have a strong rapport that shows on the stage, Strickland said.
"At times, it is like watching a verbal boxing match as the characters deftly spar with conversation, expertly trading barbs with each other," she said.
And with the issues of the elite versus the working class at its heart, the show will leaves audiences with a lot to consider, Strickland said.
"'Bakersfield Mist' is that rare gem which comes to us, unassuming on the surface, and yet burrows into our very core, causing us to re-evaluate our beliefs and perceptions not only of others, but of ourselves."
The show runs 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through June 2 with one matinee at 2 p.m. Sunday at Stars West Comedy Theater, 2756 Mosasco St. Tickets are $20, available at 325-6100 or bmtstars.com.