Tuesday, November 30, 2010

No rest for the talented

Actress Ashley Mitchell captured by paparazzi photog in Strawberry Fields, studying her latest script.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

"Call Us Cowboys" Live Theater Review

“CALL US COWBOYS” Live Theater Review

Ashley Mitchell is an extremely unique actress/writer/director who is so good at performing comedy that she took a supporting role I gave her and turned it into a starring role without changing a word of dialogue. I've become convinced while animating her voice work that she is one of the finest comedy actors I've ever heard or seen. There's no way that what I wrote was half as funny as what she read! This woman, I thought, is born to do comedy and will be making people laugh their asses off for many years to come.

Last night was the first time I ever saw Ashley perform drama, in the play “Call Us Cowboys,” at Roy Arias Theater, and I'm at a loss to put into words how blown away I was by her moving performance. Anything I write down just seems like I'm kissing ass and you won't believe me because I work with her, but I don't work with her doing drama. I have no reason to encourage her to do that!!! I need her to do my funny cartoons! Also, I've worked with some decent actors over the years, I think, going back to CHUD when I was a kid, haha (Daniel Stern, John Heard). Ashley can do things I've never seen an actor be able to do before. I don't just mean laugh on cue or cry on cue with real tears (which she does painfully convincingly), but this girl was commanding the attention of the audience sometimes even when she turned her back to us. I don't only think that she would stand out in small theater productions like this one, I think she would stand out even among the most accomplished of performers. This girl is in her early 20s and after the show I saw actors older than her asking her to go into teaching. But although Ashley's techniques are clearly well thought out, and she could probably make any actor better, there would be no way to teach someone how to be as good as Ashley Mitchell.

See? I told you, it sounds like I'm kissing butt. This is one of my problems with live plays-- there's no evidence left after the performance, it's disappeared already into the ether. If it were a youtube video, I could PROVE my points by linking you to it, but because it was live, you only have word of mouth to go on. Live theater is so ephemeral. If you can check this play out tonight or tomorrow afternoon, you'll be able to see for yourself what I'm saying, but if you miss those shows, you'll never know what you missed.

The play itself is intense and sad, about the effects of war on people's lives. There are flashback scenes of Viet Nam and Iraq, and Aki Tsuchimoto stood out most in those scenes with her quirky and interesting performance as a Viet Namese artist who gets close to the wrong Yankee. But the play comes alive in the scenes of domestic quarreling between Ashley's character Wanda and her husband Frank, played by Kevin Ploth. At points I felt like I had been trapped at my parent's house after Thanksgiving, so genuine was the writing and the performance of domestic bliss turned to an ongoing and worsening, inescapable Hell.

I thought the ending, without getting into details, was a bit “deux ex machina” as written but the remarkable way Ashley chose to perform the scene was the main topic of conversation among the audience after the show, from what I could overhear. I don't want to give spoilers concerning the plot details, but let's just say that Ms. Mitchell managed to do things not written in the script and not using words at all (!) to completely sell the ending of the play and make it seem entirely emotionally satisfying and believable. She'll make the hairs on your arm stand on end and you will know you have witnessed something very special.

Although the play was well-written and all the actors did their jobs, my thought leaving there was, “I bet I could even give Ashley ten pages of gibberish to act out but by the end of it, she'd have the audience crying or laughing or feeling whatever she wanted them to feel.” She's just out of school and has no representation yet-- a situation not likely to last all that much longer. The idea that her skills are likely to improve with time is nearly frightening.

I'll tell you now the same thing I told her after the show: Ashley Mitchell has acting super powers.

Ashley Mitchell in
Call Us Cowboys written by Bruce Colbert and directed by Jorge Navarrete
Roy Arias Theater, 300 West 43rd Street, 5th Floor, 212-957-8358
Tonight (Saturday 11/27) 8pm, tomorrow (Sunday 11/28) 3 pm