Excellent Acting and Design Drive TimeLine’s BAKERSFIELD MIST

Excellent Acting and Design Drive TimeLine’s BAKERSFIELD MIST

Janet Ulrich Brooks as Maude Gutman (left) and Mike Nussbaum as Lionel Percy in BAKERSFIELD MIST. Photo by Lara Goetsch

Review: BAKERSFIELD MIST at TimeLine Theater

By Erin Shea Brady

Countless studies have been done on the importance of a first impression and how to make a good one – in business, in romantic relationships, and as artists in our work. On the surface, Stephen Sachs’ BAKERSFIELD MIST explores the artistic first impression—the “blink”, as Mike Nussbaum’s art scholar Lionel Percy calls it, or the moment when we experience the art before we’re able to come to judgment. What strikes me most about this play, however, is its exploration of how quickly we come to judge each other—and how often we’re wrong when we do.

Nussbaum and Janet Ulrich Brooks (Maude) are two of Chicago’s best and most engaging actors. It’s a real joy to watch them play together. At first glance, their characters are opposites – Maude digs in thrift shops and yard sales to find fun tchotchkes to fill her trailer, and Lionel is an authority in art, forgery, and Jackson Pollack. He is an expert in proving which art is “real” and which isn’t. But a question of the play is, what gives art its value? By whose standards do we judge what is real?

While Sachs’ script provides a nice structure for the relationship between the two to build and grow, and addresses some important issues of art relating to status and class, the conversation often becomes redundant. Kevin Christopher Fox’s direction adds specificity through character development, but at moments, the play feels thin and static.

The design, all around, is excellent. A true stand-out is Mary O’Dowd – her props design was so thoughtful and specific, we were invested in the characters even before they set foot onstage. Set design by Jeffrey D. Kmiec and sound by Andrew Hansen give us a strong sense of place – and the lighting design by Jared Gooding lends some really lovely moments later in the play.

Ultimately, Brooks and Nussbaum deliver performances well worth seeing. This piece has the power to provoke thoughtful discussion about the power of art and the influence of judgment and bias.

About author

Erin Shea Brady

Erin Shea Brady is a contributing writer and critic at PerformInk and Newcity Stage. Directing credits include: Everybody (Brown Paper Box Co.) and Cabaret, Annapurna (staged reading) and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (No Stakes Theater Project). Erin has assistant directed and dramaturged productions at the Goodman, Jackalope, TimeLine, A Red Orchid, Northlight, and Remy Bumppo. Erin is a graduate of the directing program at Columbia College Chicago, the internship program at Steppenwolf, Jackalope's inaugural Playwright's Lab, and participated in the Goodman's Criticism in a Changing America bootcamp. Erin is a company member with Brown Paper Box Co. and is currently pursuing her MSW at Loyola.