The art adjudicator in BAKERSFIELD MIST (at New Repertory Theatre through March 18th) quips that you can’t carbon date a Jackson Pollock. Authentication has to be in the eye of the beholder. In this very real case, the eye belonged to superstar, ex- Metropolitan Museum director Thomas Hoving. Stephen Sachs gives him another name, of course, in his play about a contested flea market “treasure” (to protect the innocent playwright, no doubt).
Would be Pollocks, it turns out, pop up from time to time needing verification. The Boston College Art Museum hosted an exhibit a few years back centering around a painting discovered by the heirs of Herbert Matter, an artist and friend of Pollock. The two men traded ideas and canvases and among his possessions was a likely drip painting. Problem was: both of them experimented with drips!
Alas, Maude Gutman’s serendipitous $3 purchase in the story (based on actual events) has no such connection to attract the attention of the art world. We meet her in her cramped trailer awaiting a visit from a very expensive hired authenticator. The two of them battle for supremacy in far more than that expert opinion.
Ken Cheeseman captures Hoving’s hauteur to the letter but director Jeff Zinn unnecessarily pushes the character of the expert into slapstick (in the up close, north-south-east and west examination of the canvas and in his wild ecstasy over art history). Paula Langton as Maude, to my mind, should be controlling the comedy.
Zinn inexplicably plunks both of them down on the couch where the painting has been propped so that their respective backs rub against it. The expert certainly would know better, fresh from the world of velvet ropes and security guards–and she wouldn’t want to harm one glob of paint on her cash cow, would she? It’s really a small complaint since the rest of the play is engaging and Langton and Cheeseman connect with sparks. It’s a pity the play ends with the “decision” because there’s a lot more to the story of what happens to Maude and that now famous (the play and a film) work of art!