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Theater Review: Shalhoub and Adams Zoom Bakersfield Mist

Tony Shalhoub (Lionel) and Brooke Adams (Maude) debate the authenticity of a painting (seen in the photo’s background), in a Zoom-based reading of Bakersfield Mist, with Maria-Christina Oliveras reading stage directions.

Theater lovers take what they can get these quarantined days, and what we can get is nothing to sneeze at. (So please don’t sneeze!) In addition to theaters opening their vaults, we can thank actors/producers/SiriusXM hosts Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley. Their daily show Stars in the House livestreams on their website and YouTube channel and features performances and interviews with top talent from Broadway, television, and beyond.

The pair’s Plays in the House spin-off offers livestreamed play readings. Past performances include Charles Busch in his own The Divine Sister and The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, and Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles featuring its original 1989 cast (Joan Allen won the Tony for her performance). Sadly, unlike the daily shows, which are available for repeat viewing, the plays are one-time-only events.

Saturday, locals Brooke Adams and Tony Shalhoub took to Zoom to read Bakersfield Mist by Stephen Sachs, artistic director of our very own Fountain Theatre. Fun fact: Adams and Shalhoub, married since 1992, met when they played opposite each other in The Heidi Chronicles, each having stepped into their respective roles during the play’s initial Broadway run.

Ideally suited to a stay-at-home performance, Bakersfield Mist is a two-hander in the tradition of Love Letters and The Gin Game. Adams and Shalhoub, in their own just-right costumes and makeup, sit side by side and read from the computer screen, seemingly looking directly into the audience. Stage directions are read by Maria-Christina Oliveras.

Adams plays Maude Gutman, a potty-mouthed Bakersfield trailer park resident desperate for a win; Shalhoub is arrogant art appraiser Lionel Percy. He’s just arrived to determine whether a paint-spattered canvas Maude bought for $3 at a thrift store is a previously unknown Jackson Pollock.

Lionel (Tony Shalhoub) leans in for a closer look at paint application technique while Maude (Brooke Adams) awaits his appraisal in Bakersfield Mist.

Maude feels Lionel’s disdain and is convinced his judgment is impaired by his extreme elitism. How can he see the painting clearly if he won’t even turn it over? The two spar and up the stakes as they head toward…what? A windfall for Maude? Comeuppance for Lionel? A little growth on both sides?  With Adams and Shalhoub in the driver’s seat, it’s a fun ride.

Technical glitches were nonexistent during the performance, although there was an occasional chirp as e-mails arrived. The addition of a painting to the Zoom background was a nice touch.

The narration gave context to some of the dialogue, but occasionally added details that duplicated what the actors were doing. Having Oliveras pop in onscreen whenever she spoke was sometimes jarring. But these are minor quibbles. Theater on Zoom is not ideal, but it’s certainly better than no theater at all.

Seeing Adams and Shalhoub up close and personal, together in their own home and throwing themselves into their diametrically opposed roles, is about as much fun as you can have at 11:00 a.m. on a Saturday these days.


Don’t miss the very special theater experiences of Plays in the House. The next performance is The Little Dog Laughed at 11:00 a.m. on April 22nd. Arms and the Man is scheduled for April 25th, both with casts to be announced. The stars of Bakersfield Mist hinted they’ll be back with another Zoom show too.

Stars in the House began as a fundraiser for the Actors Fund and to date has raised almost $200,000 toward the cause. It’s much-needed, since theater shutdowns have put thousands out of work. Since March 18th, The Actors Fund has provided almost $3.5 million in emergency financial assistance to more than 2,830 arts workers.

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Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Theatre West.

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