Splatter Matters: Howmet Playhouse in search of Jack the Dripper


WHITEHALL — When the subject is Jack the Dripper, splatter matters.

In playwright Stephen Sachs’ two-hander “Bakersfield Mist,” a comedy-drama running July 21-23 at Howmet Playhouse here, a unemployed bartender comes into possession of a painting she bought at a thrift store, and thinks might be valuable.

Maude Gutman hopes the canvas is a lost work of artist Jackson Pollock (1912-1956). Pollock was the American abstract expressionist known colloquially, for his style of drip painting, as Jack the Dripper.

An art expert, Lionel Percy, comes to Maude’s trailer park to authenticate the painting. He would rather be just about anyplace else in the world, and certainly does not want to spend anymore time than he has to with someone like Maude.

With two such different people in close proximity though worlds apart, sparks can fly. “Bakersfield Mist” quickly becomes less about art and more about clashing cultures. When people who think they’re better than others find out they’re not, conflict can blow up in faces.

The production which is part of the playhouse’s 2016 Summer Theatre Festival is being directed by Natalie Carmolli of Grand Haven. It stars Trudi Kerkstra of Spring Lake as Maude; and John Gray, a professional actor working in Chicago, as Lionel.

“On its surface, ‘Bakersfield Mist’ is a play about discovering the authenticity of a painting,” Carmolli said. “But what we find is that these two characters are searching for a type of validation that goes well beyond the artwork in question. Discovery is what makes a story exciting, and there are plenty of discoveries in ‘Bakersfield Mist.’”

The show marks the return to the playhouse of Gray, who met Carmolli when both were theatre students at Central Michigan University.

A native Michigander originally from Monroe, Gray previously has performed at Howmet Playhouse in “The 39 Steps,” “Art” and “Moonlight and Magnolias.” In Chicago he acts in theatre, television and film, and also does voiceover work.

Gray has been coming to Whitehall since his childhood, to visit his grandparents Tom and Lydia Argo, and cousins Terrie and Janet Hampel.

“My grandparents live in Montague and I spent many of my childhood summers on the beach by the old channel in Montague,” Gray said. “It is very near and dear to my heart.”

Gray said he is relatively to new to Pollock and his art.

“I first heard the story that the play is based on in 2006 or so,” he said. “I thought it was hilarious, and was very fascinated by the story.”

The set of “Bakersfield Mist” will feature a Pollock-like painting created by Claire Beaman, a 2015 graduate of Whitehall High School. She is a playhouse production assistant and set designer who this year was named the Outstanding Technical Theatre Student at Muskegon Community College.

“Bakersfield Mist” is a one-act play that runs approximately 70 minutes.

It will have three 7:30 p.m. performances at the playhouse, 304 S. Mears.

Tickets are $21 for adults and $17 for students.

For reservations, visit the playhouse’s web site, http://www.howmetplayhouse.org; or the box office which is open weekdays from 1-5 p.m. and one hour before showtimes. Call (231) 894-2540.

Categories: Theatre

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