On Friday, August 26, 2016 TimeLine Theatre Company opened its 20th season with the Chicago premiere of Stephen Sachs’ Bakersfield Mist directed by Kevin Christopher Fox. Bakersfield Mist tells the story of Lionel Percy, an art expert, trying to identify the authenticity of a painting for Maude Gutman, a middle-aged woman who bought the painting as a joke for $3. Turn out it may be a lost painting of Jackson Pollack.
In many ways, Bakersfield Mist exemplifies TimeLine’s 20-year tenure in Chicago theatre. First, the show is beautifully acted by TimeLine Artistic Associate Mike Nussbaum and TimeLine Company Member Janet Ulrich Brooks, two of Chicago’s finest. Each is able to handle the story with deft humor, nuanced moments of human emotion, and graceful humility as neither hardly leaves the stage for the ninety-minute, no intermission show. (This is especially impressive for ninety-two-year-old Nussbaum.)
Secondly, the show is TimeLine’s 28th Chicago premier. In addition to bringing shows to Chicago, TimeLine had produced 9 world premieres, including To Live as Variously as Possible (1999), Streeterville (2001, pictured below), Hannah and Martin (2003), Martin Furey’s Shot (2005), Harmless (2007), Not Enough Air (2009), To Master the Art (2010), My Kind of Town (2012), and Wasteland (2012). In fact, the entire 20th season is premiere, with the US premiere of The Last Wife (Sept.-Dec.), the Chicago premiere of A Disappearing Number (Jan.-April), and the Midwest premiere of Paradise Blue (April-July).
Finally, the show engages TimeLine’s mission to present stories inspired by history that connect with today’s social and political issues. Bakersfield Mist is based on the true story of Teri Horton, a long-haul truck driver who bought what may be a Jackson Pollack for $5. (Filmmaker Harry Moses made a film about it called Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock?) But what makes the story interesting onstage is the way it connects to 2016. The production asks audiences to consider how we determine the worth of not only an art object, but of one another, particularly with regard to class division, something that the current election season seems to be exploiting.
While Bakersfield Mist is a triumph (it is highly recommended by the Chicago Sun-Times and Jeff recommended), the real story of its Chicago debut may be the fact that the group of young artists who started TimeLine have managed to sustain the theatre twenty years in Chicago’s competitive theatre climate. The founders include Nick Bowling, Founding Artistic Director, current Company Member and current Associate Artistic Director; Kevin Hagan, founding Company Member, former Resident Designer and former Artistic Director; Juliet Hart, founding and current Company Member and current Director of TimeLine’s Living History Education Program; Pat (Tiedemann) Hofmann, founding Company Member and former Managing Director; and PJ Powers, company member and current Artistic Director. Reminiscing about the founding of the company. Bowling said that he realized early that he needed to find something specific that the theatre could offer in a city fill of small storefront companies. For him, it was his interest in history that led him to help create TimeLine’s mission.
With a mission, Bowling gathered a group of artists around him he needed to make TimeLine a success. He drew from his colleagues at the Theatre School at DePaul, saying that each person he asked to collaborate “added a certain flavor to the group…I had the initial idea, but PJ was the energy, Pat was the business, Juliet was the fun, Kevin was the dreamer, Brock was the unknown, Lara [Goetsch, the seventh Company Member and current Marketing Directory] was the know-how — and everybody was talented and smart.”
Looking back on that time, Artistic Director PJ Powers says, “It’s a little hard to believe that TimeLine is now at Season 20. I recently turned 43, and it’s amazing to realize that TimeLine has been a part of nearly half of my life. I often say that I sort of lucked into my dream job, and I never imagined 20 years ago that I would be an artistic director. I was an actor, fresh out of college who planned a life as an actor. But then Nick Bowling seduced me with this wild idea to start a theatre company – to put aside personal career goals and instead focus on building something bigger than ourselves; something that would extend beyond our lifetime. In 1999 I became the Artistic Director, and I’ve spent the last 17 years figuring out what that meant. I may finally be getting the hang of it!”
Part of “getting the hang of it” may be getting a brand new space in Andersonville. TimeLine has been in talks with developers about the possibility of using the historic Trumbull School on the corner of Foster and Ashland Avenues. But new theatre aside, TimeLine will delight audiences with its provocative 20th season, and that it will continue to be a robust theatre in Chicago.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.