Jackson Pollock’s work has inspired many.
And stories surrounding the artist’s works have been inspired, as well.
One of those stories drove playwright Stephen Sachs to write “Bakersfield Mist,” which Invisible Theatre opens Wednesday, Oct. 14. Pollock’s work is at the center of the comedy, which is a roller-coaster ride with its smart, biting dialogue to the vast differences between the two characters in the play.
The plot: Maude, a one-time-bartender, dropped a couple of bucks on a painting at a thrift store. It was a gift for a friend, and the friend wanted nothing to do with it. But Maude gets it in her head that it’s by Jackson Pollock and is worth millions. An art foundation sends Lionel, a respected art expert, to her Bakersfield, Calif., trailer park to see if she’s right. The two clash, naturally. That makes for very funny moments and more than a few insights.
Genesis of the play: Sachs hit on the idea when he read a news story about a truck-driving woman who had bought a painting at a thrift store. She was convinced it was a Pollock and invested lots of energy into convincing others of the same. The more news stories he read about it, the more convinced he became that there was a play there.
“ I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be wonderful to get both (the woman and the art expert) in the same room and have them battle it out,’” said Sachs in a phone interview.
He had another motive: “I wanted to explore the meaning of art in a very personal way and what art can mean to each of us,” he said. “It becomes a deeply personal thing and something worth fighting for.”
Getting to know Pollock: “I knew Pollock’s work and admired some of it,” said Sachs. “Doing this play ignited my interest in him and his art. In researching the play, I went to museums and saw his works. When you are standing in front of a Jackson Pollock in a museum, it’s a totally different experience than studying it in a book. His work is so alive and kinetic and vibrant — it’s electrifying. It completely overwhelmed me when I saw some of his large works.”
Getting real: “The play wrestles with the issue of authenticity,” said Sachs. On first meeting, it’s easy to think you know who Maude and Lionel are — she’s a beer-swilling, uneducated oaf, he’s a nose-in-the-air art snob.
“We have our own predetermined judgments about them,” said Sachs. “But first impressions — of art or human beings — can be wrong. It’s not always what it appears to me.”
The characters: Lionel is a stuffed shirt, sure, but Sachs has a soft spot for him. “I think he’s very lonely. His life hasn’t turned out the way he wished and he’s deeply lonely. I just love him as a person.”
Maude, too, has deep rivers of grief and loneliness. “There’s a real human being there,” said Sachs.