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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Bakersfield Mist
By Tim Sealey

Every great artist paints what he is. — Lionel
Bakersfield Mist
Ian McDiarmid as Lionel and Kathleen Turner as Maude
(Photo: Simon Annand)
It is a welcome return for Kathleen Turner who hasn't been seen on the London stage since 2006 in Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Also starring Ian McDiarmid, Bakersfield Mist is small in execution but big in heart and is a little gem of a piece. It will challenge your perceptions of what makes art and begs the even more important question: Who are you to decide in the first place?

Maude (Kathleen Turner) a recently unemployed bartender has found a painting in the skip near her trailer park home in suburban America. Believing it to be a Jackson Pollock worth millions, she employs the professional services of an art expert Lionel Percy (Ian McDiarmid) to prove to the world that she really has found a masterpiece. However, it isn't just the truth of the painting that is revealed and although Maude and Lionel are from very different worlds, their tragic pasts prove they are alike in more ways than one.

The story is indeed as simple as that and at a delightful 80 minutes long it really is a short but sweet evening of thought provoking drama. Both Turner and McDiarmid are extremely charming to watch and enjoy. Turner's comic timing is in great form and she constantly lingers on the cliff edges of deadpan making you not sure whether to laugh or cry. Her husky voice and nervous disposition both suit the role well and she is successful in purporting there is actually much more than meets the eye with this naive 'country bumpkin'. McDiarmid creates in Lionel a person we feel is sympathetic and understanding. His past is catching up with him and with essences of alcoholism and loveless marriages, this character is quite heart warming to watch. These superb performances are played out on Tom Piper's wonderful and realistic set design. The higgledy-piggledy home of Maude is created with huge authenticity and the complexities of this character are brought even more to the forefront by clever and idiosyncratic props.

Stephen Sachs' play is not one that will blow your mind but that is its charm. It floats along simply enough whilst inadvertently planting in your mind important questions about art. With so much garbage being created on stage, on film and on canvas to the cost of millions are the questions that really need answering. It also highlights a huge problem of snobbery in the art world and emphasises the point - what makes someone qualified to decide when art is art? Also, can such a question be answered by guidelines and boundaries - isn't my concept of art going to be different to yours? Isn't art ultimately in the eye of the beholder? This is a poignant piece that may ultimately leave you with the depressing thought that actually nobody really knows.
Bakersfield Mist
Written by Stephen Sachs
Directed by Polly Teale
Designed by Tom Piper

Starring: Kathleen Turner, Ian McDiarmid
Lighting: Oliver Fenwick
Music and Sound: Jon Nicholls
Running time: 80 minutes with no interval
Box Office: 0845 505 8500
Booking to 30th August 2014
Reviewed by Tim Newns based on 29th May 2014 production at the Duchess Theatre, Catherine Street, London, WC2B 5LA
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