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Bakersfield Mist

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Pickles and ice cream, oil and water, drinking and driving are but a few examples of mis-combinations—entities or activities that are best left separate. Another coupling that in reality should’ve been avoided is that of an unemployed bartender who resides in a Bakersfield trailer park with a supercilious art scholar from Manhattan. But that’s exactly what happens in Stephen Sach’s world premier play, Bakersfield Mist (at Los Angeles’ Fountain Theatre, through July 31). And what a pleasing surprise of a play it turns out to be.

 Mist is inspired by true events surrounding an Orange County woman who claimed to have purchased an “unknown” Jackson Pollock painting for five dollars; she’d “discovered” it in a San Bernardino second hand shop. Sach’s transfers the story to California’s lower San Joaquin Valley. And, instead of the actual five dollar purchase price that took place, Sach’s protagonist, middle-age Maude Gutman, buys the piece from its unaware owner only subsequent to bartering the price down to three dollars.

Also directed by Sachs, Bakersfield Mist is an 80-minute (intermission-less) examination of the meaning of art. Nevertheless, Mist is loaded with conflict and weighted with drama. But it’s a comedy, too. Unexpectedly and uproariously there’s a knife fight, there are dangerous amounts of liquor consumed, and there’s plenty of profanity.

Jenny O’Hara plays Maude with genuineness and earthiness that is endearing, and, truth be told, slightly repellent. Maude is full of heart, and evokes our sympathies. Simultaneously, however, her neediness and desperation are vaguely repugnant. O’Hara imbues Maude with shade and shadow, dimension and depth. What’s more, O’Hara’s portrayal is hilarious. To witness Maude attempting to seduce a haughty East Coast connoisseur of art is a work of comedic art.

In making Maude into as funny a character as she is, O’Hara is greatly assisted by Nick Ullett as Lionel Percy—the putative Pollock expert. He arrives to authenticate Maude’s questionable claim to “a Pollock.” Ullett’s Lionel is a stuffy characterization that’s entirely credible. We watch him in curious awe, attempting to understand how such a person operates. Amazingly, and after a well delivered monologue—that drew a cheer from the audience at the reviewed performance—we do indeed come to empathize with Lionel.

Not only does Mist dare crack open such age-old conundrums as “What is art?” it also refreshingly and amusingly challenges expertise. “What,” Maude queries,” makes you an authority.” Good question, after all.

Jeff McLaughlin’s set design, along with Ken Booth’s lighting, Shon LaBlanc’s costumes, and Peter Bayne’s sound engineering, add to the feel of rough and real that’s on display here. If Jackson Pollock wrote a play, it might be something like Bakersfield Mist.

Interestingly, the two players, O’Hara and Ullett, are a married couple in real-life. To witness these two journeyman actors give his-and-her, tit-for-tat performances is a rare treat that for theater aficionados, ought not to be missed.

Bakersfield Mist continues at The Fountain Theatre—5060 Fountain Avenue, Los Angeles—through September 3. Show times are Thursday through Friday at 8 p.m. Matinees are Sundays at 2 p.m. For reservations, dial (323) 663 – 1525. For online ticketing and further information, visit www.FountainTheatre.com.                    

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.