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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Bakersfield Mist
Duchess Theatre  Summer 2014

The primary attraction of this new American drama-with-laughs is the opportunity to watch two expert and attractive performers coast easily and gracefully through an unchallenging script. 

Apart from providing that vehicle for Kathleen Turner and Ian McDiarmid, Stephen Sachs' play is not much. 

A blowsy, boozy trailer park resident in Bakersfield (i.e., Nowheresville) California has found a painting in a thrift shop that she is convinced is a lost Jackson Pollock worth millions, and an art expert from New York has come to authenticate or reject it. 

Predictably he declares it a fake, and can even name the local artist who probably made it, and predictably she doesn't accept his judgement without a fight. Predictably his authority is exposed as not quite as solid as he'd like others to believe, while her hard-boiled exterior is shown to cover a wounded core. 

The bulk of the very short (barely 70 minutes – you're on your way home before Momma Mia across the street has reached its interval) play is devoted to their debate, giving Kathleen Turner's rough bulldog determination and Ian McDiarmid's urbane superiority plenty of opportunity to entertain us, both with their individual deliveries and with the contrasts and ways they bounce off each other. 

There are a few small surprises along the way – Turner's character has done her homework and can marshal a stronger-than-anticipated case for her side, while McDiarmid's proves not quite so secure in his mantle of authority as he first seemed. 

Neither actor is particularly challenged by their roles, but the ease with which they inhabit them is the evening's real source of pleasure.

McDiarmid can do suave superiority in his sleep, and also gets the opportunity for an impassioned aria on the power of great art in general and Jackson Pollock in particular, followed up by that actor's dream, a drunk scene. 

Turner uses her signature gravely voice and willingness to play against her previous image as a sexpot to fully capture the look and sound of a woman whose throat has experienced more cigarettes and bourbon than is good for it. 

Forget Jackson Pollock, forget any of the side issues raised by the play, and just enjoy the ease, charm and expertise of the two performers, and Bakersfield Mist will deliver a satisfying hour's worth of entertainment.

Gerald Berkowitz


Review - Bakersfield Mist - Duchess Theatre 2014  
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