The Boulevard Theatre hosts an intimate drama of art and the human soul at Plymouth Church this month. Mark Bucher directs a cast of 3 in a concert reading of Stephen Sachs’ Bakersfield Mist. Three actors. Three music stands. One pianist. It’s a very close walk with the nature of truth, beauty and human meaning between two characters.
After a brief introductory moment with Bucher, pianist Donna Kummer sets the mood with gently cheerful piano stroll. The light notes establish a humbly classy emotional warmth for the rest of the show to nestle into. Three actors enter. The piano finishes its walk and the dialogue begins.
David Ferrie establishes the scene through narration. His tone and timing are excellent. Stage directions fit perfectly in and within the rhythm of the dialogue without overpowering the dramatic momentum at pleat between the two characters. Bucher and company maintain a very respectable energy in the reading which cleverly narrows the focus on the dialogue of a script that is very, very passionate at so many turns. There are too many distractions in a full production. Sachs' drama is an impressively nuanced dance between two quite different people who are quite similar at the center. The concert reading allows the delicate nature of that dialogue to become the center of the entire evening.
Carole Herbstreit-Kalinyen is pleasantly gruff as Maude Gurtman—an unemployed woman living in a trailer park in California who has come into possession of a Jackson Pollock painting that she wishes to have authenticated. She’s a hard drinking chain smoker—-not exactly the type of person one might normally expect to be hanging out in a trailer park with a ridiculously valuable Pollock. There’s a deep soul to the character which gradually reveals itself to be every bit as haunted and powerful as the artist who may or may not have painted the work itself. Herbstreit-Kalinyen is at her best in the role in those deeper moments of emotional recklessness...never allowing herself to overplay the intensity and smartly allowing the dialogue to work on its own in the heavier moments of reflection.
David Flores is crisp and precise in the role of Lionel Percy—the expert from New York who has flown all the way out to California to have a look at the painting. Flores’ neat precision in the role is gradually rolled-back in the course of the interaction. Passions of his own are slowly revealed as Maude discusses his past with him and the origins of his love of art and his disgust of inauthenticity. Lionel is given some of the most eloquent whisper of poetry once he’s really allowed to get going on the topic of Pollock. There's a bit of a monologue in there...lines that could have read as one grandiose comic punchline where Lionel finally gives-in to his passion for the art and the artist. Flores doesn't deliver it as a joke, though. He's bringing Lionel's words to the stage like they were the radiantly burning fires in the substance of passion itself. It’s delightfully overwhelming. The interaction that follows allows for deeper connection between the two characters as what at first might have been a casually forgery reveals the possible fingerprint of the artist from a woman who may be more deeply troubled that she appeared at first glance. Truth. Beauty. Comedy. This is a fun and cozy night in the presence of art.
Boulevard Theatre’s concert reading of Bakersfield Mist runs through Nov. 30 at Plymouth Church on 2717 East Hampshire. For more information, visit Boulevard Theatre online.