Nothing Hazy in Bakersfield Mist at the Fountain Theatre

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Now through January 30th, the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood offers a beautifully written, touching, and hilarious comedy in Bakersfield Mist.

Written and directed by Stephen Sachs, the production is a revival of an earlier incarnation of the play, and remains a two person tour de force, currently performed to perfection by Jenny O’Hara and Nick Ullett. As an out of work bartender and an uptight art expert, respectively, the performances are spot on.

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Sachs is co-artistic director at the theater, and has written a wonderfully nuanced character study of two people who in their own, incredibly different ways, are passionate about a piece of art – which may or may not be a Jackson Pollock.

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Based on a true incident, the play focuses on bartender and thrift-shop veteran Maude Gutman who may have uncovered a genuine Jackson Pollock. Summoned to her door is renowned art historian and analyst Lionel Percy, come all the way from New York to verify the providence of the painting. Though Maude makes a convincing and impassioned argument, and both reveal their past mistakes, sins, and dreams, the pair ultimately butts heads when it comes to whether the painting is genuine or not.

Emotions run high, amusement soars and recedes on a tide of self-doubt and recrimination, and who is the stronger survivor of the pair might very well come into question.

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The two are each quite profound in their own disparate ways, and the question as to the meaning and purpose of art is matched to even deeper questions about the meaning of life itself, handling loss, and the burning spark of truth and desire the fuels everyone, regardless of pedigree, pride, or limitations.

Delightfully witty and yet deeply moving, this is a perfect two-hander, performed in one compelling act. It makes a great way to start the theatrical New Year.

The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Ave. For tickets visit http://www.fountaintheatre.com/event/bakersfield-mist-2016/

  • Genie Davis; photos provided by Ed Krieger

Waiting for Grace: Looking for Love at the Odyssey

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Above, actress and writer Sharon Sharth.

In the late ’70s, Joni Mitchell sang in the transcendent Hejira, “I know, no one’s going to show me everything/We all come and go unknown/Each so deep and superficial/ Between the forceps and the stone.”

 

In some inchoate but poignant way Sharon Sharth’s semi-autobiographical play, Waiting for Grace, reminded me of that song. While the play is often brilliantly funny, it’s also moving; the search for love and marriage by a no-longer-young, yet still attractive actress is both personal and universal, filled with longing and delight, despair and hope.

Directed by Lee Costello, the play is essentially a one-woman show, albeit ably supported by a brilliant cast playing various roles as Grace’s boyfriends, therapists, and parents.

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The plot is simple: Grace (Sharth herself, a burning spark both searing and sexy) long focused on her career, now wants marriage and motherhood, but cannot find a man able to provide her with a ring or a child. Some are too clingy, some angry, some distant – all are played by the chameleon Jeff LeBeau. Therapist, parents, and relationship counselor all come into play trying to advise her, until at last she meets “the one,” David (Todd Babcock).

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Her dream man isn’t perfect either, and in fact, until the last moments, the audience is never sure that even David will prove worthy of Grace’s somewhat neurotic love.

The play is warm and affectionate overall, with acerbic and bittersweet asides. The weakest link is when Grace tries to have a child with David, but that’s a quibble. The script is sharp, witty, powerful, and brave.

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Sharth takes on the pain of looking for love (in all the wrong places and with all the wrong guys), aging, feminism, the meaning of marriage — and comes up with the only conclusion that can possible be reached: waiting for grace isn’t easy, but in the end, she/it can be found.

Quoting Mitchell again, “I’m traveling in some vehicle/I’m sitting in some cafe/ A defector from the petty wars/Until love sucks me back that way.”

Running through December 11th, don’t miss the chance to find Grace.

  • Genie Davis; Photos: courtesy of the Odyssey

 

A Taste of Honey: Still Sweet

 

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A Taste of Honey, now at the Odyssey Theatre through November 27th is a deeply felt revival of a 1958 classic. Directed by Kim Rubenstein, the once shocking Shelagh Delaney play is in firm hands, with innovative staging and a terrific cast.

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On paper the play sound like a sad but pulpy tale. Teenage Jo (Kestrel Leah) is left by her mother Helen (Sarah Underwood) when the latter runs off with her latest paramour,  uncouth but moneyed Peter (Eric Hunicutt). Left unattended, Jo has an affair with a handsome black sailor Jimmie (Gerard Joseph), becomes pregnant, and with both mother and lover MIA, invites a tender, caring gay friend, Geoff (Leland Montgomery) to live with her. He’s ready to help her raise her baby until mama, rejected by her lover, decides to move back in.

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That Geoff’s character even existed as a serious and admirable member of the cast was shocking in 1958, now it hardly stands out. What does remain vigorous and noteworthy is the sharp and pointed dialog,  and the show’s equally-groundbreaking-at-the-time breaking of the 4th wall, as characters address the audience, and here interact with a live trio on set.

The music and the lighting here adds a quality of hip, slightly surreal, and intrinsically contemporary gravitas to the production, which is very much rooted to it’s setting in the U.K., and it’s time period.

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Yes, the story is the stuff of melodrama and neither the sexual orientation nor race of the characters are cutting edge today. All the same, this is a story of tragedy, loss, birth, death, and the potential, perhaps lost, for redemption. That makes it classic, rather than dated; and the Odyssey’s production is a fine showcase for the play. Directing and performances are both top rate, adding new lustre to an old jewel.

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The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. on the west side. Performances run 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays (also 8 p.m. some Wednesdays and Thursdays) through Nov. 27th.