Julie Zielinski in Bakersfield Mist. Photo courtesy of Little Colonel.
By Stephen Sachs
Directed by George Robert Bailey
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2017 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Little Colonel Playhouse continues to embrace a new found sense of adventure in their choice of material with Stephen Sach’s Bakersfield Mist, a rambunctious comedy about the conflict between high and low brow sensibility.
Lionel (Michael McCollum) is a snobbish art expert who has come to a trailer park in Bakersfield California to assess a claim by Maude (Julie Zielinski), an unemployed bartender who makes a claim that the painting she bought for $3.00 is an authentic Jackson Pollock, and therefore worth tens of millions of dollars.
Common sense positions our expectation as to whether the painting is the real deal, but that is not really the point here. Sachs uses a true story on which to build his examination of a clash of cultures, the sophisticated, buttoned-up esthete against the uneducated, intuitive, trailer-park denizen. Lionel examines the painting in a pretentious, overly mannered fashion that satirizes the cult of academia, while the hard-drinking Maude seems to just know in her bones that the work comes from the hand of the great Abstract Expressionist. Laughs are gleaned from both characterizations, but the audience’s sympathies are clearly meant to align with Maude.
In this production, that connection is accomplished in no small part to Julie Zielinski’s performance, which highlights her crackerjack comic timing on top of a vivid physical realization of the sunburned, bleach-blonde, tacky make-up of the American animal known as “white trash”. This is a committed, balls-out turn, and Zielinski seems to be having a blast.
Michael McCollum is also a smart casting choice, and, even though he stumbled with some of his tongue-twisting, intellectual dialogue, he gets the job done. His close-cropped grey hair and goatee are the right look, and there is little question he understands the foundation of the character. Part of the beauty of a two-hander like this is the generous opportunity to win the audience, and both actors find the surprise in the characters.
There are many things that identify this as a departure from typical Little Colonel fare; the tacky, restricting confines of the trailer setting is liberating from the living room milieu that is common here, and the sharp dialogue is peppered with more profanity than the Pewee Valle venue is accustomed to. Although it is watered down significantly from the published text, the cursing and sexual innuendo provoked some reaction from the opening night audience – not shock necessarily, but it pushes the envelope in ways that seem healthy for the company.
Bakersfield Mist uses its premise to bring playful, thoughtful, aesthetic debate in accessible terms with mainstream appeal. The ideas are not exactly new, but in between the situation comedy the play sneaks in surprising insight about the nature of art and the value to the individual of treasured beauty in the most mundane objects.
March 10, 11, 16, 17, & 18 at 7:30pm
March 12 & 19 at 2:00pm
Little Colonel Playhouse
302 Mount Mercy Drive
Pewee Valley, Kentucky 400
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.