Kathleen Turner chose a relatively small production in her return to the London stage, in Bakersfield Mist, by Stephen Sachs. Kathleen plays Maude, a stereotypical hard drinking ‘trailer trash’ lady living in a trailer park in Bakersfield, California. Alongside Kathleen is Ian McDiarmid’s snobbish New York art expert, Lionel, who was once the Director of Art at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ian McDiarmid will be known to most of you from playing Senator Palpatine, AKA Darth Sidious, in Star Wars, but has a long list of theatre plays under his belt as an actor and director.
Maude, a scavenger, who collects particularly bad kitsch artworks and ornaments from junk shops have come across a painting she paid $3 for at a thrift store, which she instantly hates, and intended to give to a friend as a joke. She is persuaded by someone it is possibly a Jackson Pollock worth millions. She calls in Lionel, the art expert, to appraise and confirm its authenticity. After briefly looking at the painting, Lionel decides “in the blink of an eye” and after having given his damning verdict, his professional composure soon deteriorates into a personal conflict between his professional intuition, his pride being attacked by Maude, and an inner struggle to accept that someone such as Maude could possibly have come into ownership of a genuine Jackson Pollock. Lionel’s examination of the painting has him staring intensely, walking back and forth, looking upside down, and this proves to be hilarious, as does his description of how Pollock carried out his work, as he almost works himself up into a sexual fervour in his description.
We learn that just as Maude, Lionel had once been sacked due to a professional mistake, and this provides Maude with plenty of ammunition. Lionel is unable to shed his preconceptions of Maude, how she looks and lives, and this clash of class inevitably comes to blows in an explosive battle to assert their views and justify their own standing as appreciators of art. Lionel’s own demons come to light, as we learn of his mistake in buying a naked statue for Metropolitan Museum of Art which turned out to be a fake. Was his determination to buy the statue a glimpse at an underlying sexual issue he had bottled? The play didn’t delve further into that avenue.
Turner and McDiarmid’s performances were amazing and the interplay between the two was well polished in this 80-minute play. The two characters together consume copious amounts of neat Jack Daniels together, as they both argue in vain as to the evidence Maude provides to add to the possibility of the painting’s authenticity. Lionel begins to form growing respect for Maude, as she’s clearly done her work to produce the evidence.
For 80 minutes it is certainly a short play and runs through with no interval, so make sure to take your drinks in beforehand. It’s well worth seeing for the expert performances alone; two highly talented individuals duelling it out on stage, give credible substance to what is a cleverly written play.
It’s well worth seeing for the expert performances alone; two highly talented individuals duelling it out on stage, give credible substance to what is a cleverly written play.