If we are what we wear, Shareen Mitchell has helped thousands of women in their quest to be uniquely themselves. Mitchell headed a groundbreaking vintage fashion mini-empire that arose from her search for post-acting creative and financial fulfillment. Shareen Vintage was born in 2004 at Melrose Trading Post, adjacent to the Greenway Court Theater where Mitchell now performs Who Are You, a solo show tracing her journey.
If we are what we watch, those who are fortunate enough to catch Who Are You can experience not only a rollercoaster of entertainment, but vicarious personal growth. Mitchell’s honest and authentic depiction of her life’s low and high points is inspiring and empowering.
This unique show works on multiple levels, a combination of slam poetry, mini-musical, TED Talk and, most of all, a moving personal saga from a multitalented writer-actress-singer-designer-seeker. It is uplifting and engaging, pulling us along a unique-to-LA path from acting to struggling to spiritual and creative fulfillment through dressing cool girls and celebrities. It even opens with Mitchell driving the 101 to a retreat in Ojai. It doesn’t get more SoCal than that.
Mitchell’s elegant prose, poetry and lyrics combine with her lovely speaking and singing voice to paint a portrait of a particular kind of life in a particular era of Los Angeles. Seeking escape from shame, fear and unpaid bills, she tries it all: therapy, men, detox, vision boards, Deepak and Oprah, Agape Spiritual Center and an array of workshops, books and new age gimmicks. None of it works.
She has $97 in the bank and is working as a babysitter for $10 an hour—also known as rock bottom—when she meets a voice on the phone that refocuses her. From there, openness to the right people (and forces) at the right time, along with hard work, bring her out of the darkness. Mitchell retains her rawness, choking up as she relates the love and kindnesses that put her on the right path.
Who Are You was made for a wider audience. It’s easy to imagine it in multiple formats, from a straightforward filming of the solo show to a movie musical to a fashion-filled series. The series approach would allow exploration of intriguing elements that are only grazed in the current show: Mitchell’s Seven Sisters academic background, successful acting career and relationship with her mother, who appears only briefly as a domineering naysayer.
Everything about the show is classy, from cello accompaniment by Ashley Ng, to direction by Kate Jopson, to scenic design by Sibyl Wickersheimer. As Mitchell moves through her story and the sheer fabric that makes up the set, emotional involvement and the thrill of recognition build. This is a woman who tried it all, who has run the gamut from lost to found, all through giving to others, listening to her heart and giving in to faith.
There are a few minor issues. At almost two hours, and with two very different halves, an intermission wouldn’t hurt. On the other hand, the first half of the show could use a little tightening. Arrival at a retreat is not nearly as interesting as several other potential starting points. Fashion doesn’t get even a mention until about halfway through, despite being the main focus from there on out. Finally, there’s the title which, while used repeatedly during the show, feels a little too generic for something so unique and wonderful.
Oh, and a trend tip based on Mitchell’s knockout offstage look: big sleeves are back!
Shareen Mitchell performs Who Are You at Greenway Court Theatre, 544 North Fairfax Ave., through June 19. Tickets are $30 and are available here. Free parking is available in a lot just to the north of the building.
About 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 Neo Ensemble Theatre in Hollywood.
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