‘Bakersfield Mist’ // Ad Astra

‘Bakersfield Mist’ was energetic.

Art, authenticity and alcohol are the hot topics at Ad Astra as they bring to life Stephen Sach’s ‘Bakersfield Mist’. Based loosely on true events, the play follows Maude Gutman, an ex-bartender and passionate thrifter, as she invites esteemed art critic Lionel Percy to confirm the legitimacy of her latest op shop find; a supposed Pollock painting. Chaos ensues as a passionate argument breaks out between the two and vulnerability leaks through. 

Setting the scene, Bill Haycock transforms Ad Astra’s black box stage into the cluttered cosy caravan home of Maude. With beaded curtains instead of doors, bright blue cabinets and an assortment of tacky knick knacks clinging to wooden panel walls Maude’s eccentric personality is made overtly evident. The attention to detail encourages the audience to settle into the realism of the play. 

This realistic approach is also adopted in Geoff Squires’ lighting design. A gentle warmth envelopes the stage, paying homage to the Californian climate of where the play is set. However, in unison with Greg Scurr’s sound design, there are particular moments in which this state shifts to emphasise the character’s appreciation for art. As the lights dim subtly, a snare drum beat rises ever so slightly to underscore the character’s moments of passion. 

In the role of the leading lady, Maude Gutman is Fiona Kennedy. Her performance is energetic and biting with moments of darkness cutting through her sarcastic and fiery exterior. Playing opposite her is Steven Grives in the role of Lionel Percy, the upper class art critic. Grives brings a strong vocal quality and undeniably believable passion to his character. Being only a two-handed show, Bakersfield Mist relies heavily on the relationship that develops between the two characters. Complicated in its nature, the relationship quickly transforms as Maude and Lionel go from strangers to eventually developing a mutual understanding of each other. A difficult task, Kennedy and Grives should be applauded for their efforts. 

Directed by Jennifer Flowers, ‘Bakersfield Mist’ begs the question whether it’s feeling or fame that makes art authentic. With a fast-paced, witty script that unveils more and more about it’s characters as it goes on, considering which particular moments to land comedically versus dramatically could have assisted in creating a more distinct build for the performance. Energised and engaging, Ad Astra’s rendition of Bakersfield Mist is a playful exploration of how art can affect the human experience and how the human experience can in turn affect art.

‘Bakersfield Mist’ performs until Saturday, 3 June 2022 at Ad Astra. For more information visit their website.

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