‘Bakersfield Mist’ explores art versus reality

By Liz Keill

MORRISTOWN, NJ – The Bickford Theatre presents a touching, often hilarious, two-person play about a woman in a trailer park in Bakersfield, California, who thinks she has purchased an original Jackson Pollock at a thrift shop.

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With this unlikely premise, the play evolves into a matter of wills, wishful thinking and harsh reality. Author Stephen Sachs has conjured a clash between the hard-nosed former bartender, Kim Zimmer and a visiting art specialist from a New York City Art Foundation. Carl Wallnau perfectly captures the elitist authority, in striking contrast to the no-holds-barred, down to earth Zimmer.

Maude and Lional spar and, gradually, respect each other over more than a few bourbons. Just because Maude paid only $3 for this unusual work doesn’t mean it’s really worth $50 million or more. As the two argue, she points out a fingerprint on the back of the painting that her friend, a detective, has said it could well be Pollock’s. But Lionel isn’t buying into that speculation.

Still, the play moves along as these two find common ground when recounting their own disappointments in life. Wallnau gives a wonderful monologue early on about the way art has captured his imagination. Zimmer holds her own in her tale of a difficult marriage and a son with emotional problems. What makes this scenario works so well, and so fluidly, is the way these two play off each other, each standing their ground in what they believe to be true.

Director Eric Hafen has brought out all the nuances of this well crafted production. Roy Pancirov designed the run-down, cluttered set, which Maude calls home. The production is enhanced with Christina Lockerby’s costumes and Roman Klima’s lighting. 

This is an evening well worth remembering. Performances continue through Nov. 5 at The Bickford Theatre, located in the Morris Museum at 6 Normandy Heights Road in Morristown. For tickets, call 973-971-3706 or visit morrismuseum.org.