Comedy That Keeps You Guessing: ‘Bakersfield Mist’

A man in a suit sits on a chair in a living room holding a folder with a briefcase next to him. A woman stands across from with her hand on a painting. The setting is a living room.
Cassel Miles (left) and Rosemary Doyle (right) in Theatre Kingston’s Bakersfield Mist. Photo by Tim Fort.

Please note this review mentions firearms. 

What is art? On Wednesday, February 7th, I headed on down to the Baby Grand Theatre to catch Theatre Kingston’s production of Bakersfield Mist, written by Stephen Sachs and directed by Jim Garrard. The play follows a 50-something unemployed but previously a bartender, Maude (Rosemary Doyle), as she tries to get her presumed Jackson Pollock painting authenticated—if she succeeds, it can be worth millions. The only thing in her way is art expert Lionel Percy (Cassel Miles) who is sent to authenticate the painting Maude bought for three dollars at a thrift store. Throughout the show, the audience gradually learns more about these characters, developing a deeper understanding of them and their situations in life. 

As stated in the program, the play is indeed “hilarious and thought-provoking”. It leaves the audience with unanswered questions as to what happened and what will happen next. Walking back from the show, my friend and I couldn’t stop talking about Bakersfield Mist and what it truly meant, which in my book, is a sign of a good show. The play asks the question of what makes art authentic, but also people. These characters are much deeper than first imagined and as an audience member, you have the opportunity to understand these characters personally, which can change your initial perception. 

Doyle and Miles are both exceptional in each of their roles. Doyle portrays a manipulative and seedy alcoholic living in a trailer park effortlessly. Coupled with Miles’ convincing portrayal of the snouty Lionel Percy is, at times, comedy gold. With Lionel’s sarcastic nature and Maude’s over-the-top antics, the two have a dynamic that kept me hooked. 

Direction by Jim Garrard is also very well done. It is hard to keep an audience’s attention for 90 minutes in any setting but to do so with only one set and two actors is a feat in itself. With these limitations, it is impressive how I never got bored with the surroundings. This is in short due to the way the characters act and have been directed on stage, but through how props (by Andrea Robertson Walker) are used and introduced as well. 

I found the use of the painting to be the most compelling of these. The positioning of the painting is interesting as sometimes it is fully visible, sometimes turned on an angle so its view is partially obstructed, and a few times it is fully turned around. The third position is an intriguing choice since the actors are standing behind the painting as they discuss it, meaning the audience can only see the back of the painting and their faces. This does highlight the actor’s faces and facial expressions in this part of the play.

I also loved how the use of a gun fleshes out Maude’s character. I found that the play was starting to get a bit stale towards the middle, but the introduction of a weapon raises the stakes in a fantastic way. It creates tension not previously there and hooked me back in. It also introduces Maude’s manipulative nature, deepening her character, and crafting a more compelling narrative.

I would say the play is not suitable for most children as there are a fair few moments of coarse language and some instances of sexual innuendos. Nevertheless, for adults who want a funny and intriguing narrative that is acted and directed wonderfully, then head on down to the Baby Grand Theatre. 

‘Bakersfield Mist’ is being performed almost daily until February 25th, 2024. Find more information here