Theater review: Evan Mitchell's Masked brings commedia dell’arte to the Carrack | Arts
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Friday, October 9, 2015

Theater review: Evan Mitchell's Masked brings commedia dell’arte to the Carrack

Posted by on Fri, Oct 9, 2015 at 12:23 PM

click to enlarge Evan Mitchell in Masked
  • Evan Mitchell in Masked
MASKED: A ONE-MAN CONTEMPORARY COMMEDIA DELL’ARTE OBSESSION
★★★
Saturday, Oct. 3 and 10, 8 p.m.
$5 suggested donation
The Carrack Modern Art
111 W. Parrish St., Durham
704-213-6666


When Evan Mitchell steps out from behind a shoji screen at one end of the Carrack, he reminds us how rarely we see fully embodied characters in this region. For many performers, acting is an enterprise that mostly takes place from the neck up. Each week, dozens of them convince audiences in theaters across the region mostly with their versatility and strength of voice and countenance.

But the conventions of commedia dell’arte limit or deny an actor both of these resources. Its famous masks cover most or all of an actor’s facial expressions; in pantomime, the voice goes silent. The performer is forced to rely on other resources—the body and the imagination—to convey character, situation and world.

As the title suggests, Mitchell’s 50-minute solo show, Masked: A One-Man Contemporary Commedia Dell’arte Obsession, focuses more on mask work than classical mime. Though the characters we meet manipulate a number of invisible objects—including knives in a kitchen sequence and a groaning Vespa—they also address us, in English and through an array of vocalized gasps, sighs, clucks and juicy raspberries.

Mitchell’s training is evident in the seeming ease with which he inhabits different bodies. This includes the aged Guillermo, who opened last Saturday’s show by interrogating the audience: a nervy gambit, but one that made sense for an old man suddenly finding himself before a group of strangers. The environments his characters traverse are, for the most part, coherent but unseen.

We also appreciated the mix of comedy and social commentary in the sequences of Masked. A comic scene in which a haughty chef encounters difficulties when the country’s president dines at his restaurant contrasts with a darker, later meditation on machismo and war.

But the transitions and connections between characters weren’t always clear. Why did a kitchen scene, for example, suddenly detour outdoors to consider a funny, irascible bird-lover? Mitchell later constructs the walls of a wartime bunker between the audience and his soldier, Leonardo—a barrier through which, somehow, he can still see and appeal directly to us.

Mitchell is still learning how to build and tell his stories. In places, narrative arcs are interrupted or abandoned after jokes. But it says much that he’s built characters that we want to know more about, even if all in this production were male. In its most solemn moments, performer and characters both achieve true gravitas.

Masked shows us a developing young artist who’s already made significant discoveries in commedia and will doubtlessly make more. Though arguably a work in progress, it’s still a show unlike any other you’ll see in the area this month.

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