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Actress Elizabeth Ashley to speak at Mercyhurst

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Mercyhurst University will welcome Tony Award-winning actress Elizabeth Ashley to campus this month for an onstage conversation about her legendary career.

The Mercyhurst Theatre Program, with support from the Mercyhurst Literary Festival, the Mercyhurst Office of Academic Affairs, Erie Arts & Culture, and the Greater Erie Alliance for Equality, will present ”An Evening with Elizabeth Ashley” on Thursday, March 26, at 8 p.m. at Taylor Little Theatre. The talk is free and open to the public.

“The Mercyhurst Theatre Program is committed to bringing world-class artists like Elizabeth Ashley and Chita Rivera [who visited campus in November 2013] to the Erie region, providing members of our community an opportunity to study and interact with the best of the best,” said Brett D. Johnson, Ph.D., director of the Mercyhurst Theatre Program. Landing an actress of Ashley’s caliber, Johnson said, is “quite a coup for our burgeoning program.”

An accomplished stage actress of more than 50 years known for her strong and vibrant performances, Ashley, 75, made her Broadway debut in 1959 in Dore Shary’s The Highest Tree, and has appeared in over a dozen Broadway productions. She won a Tony Award in 1962 for her portrayal of Mollie in Take Her, She’s Mine, and received Tony nominations for Barefoot in the Park in 1963 and the 1974 revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, for which she also received the Tennessee Williams Foundation Award. She most recently starred in the Broadway revival of You Can’t Take It With You, opposite James Earl Jones.

Ashley is best known as one of the definitive interpreters of Tennessee Williams’ works, and her visit coincides with the Mercyhurst Theatre Program’s upcoming production of Williams’ Clothes for a Summer Hotel, which will be performed April 9-11. During her onstage conversation, Ashley will discuss Williams’ life and work, including her friendship with the playwright and the influence he had on her, as well as Williams’ influence on American theater.

“She delivers fearless, honest, and often devastatingly funny performances,” Johnson said. “Miss Ashley is the perfect interpreter of Williams’ work because, as a Southern woman, she understands his language and cadences instinctively.”

Ashley crossed into film with 1964’s The Carpetbaggers, opposite George Peppard, whom she later married. Her performance earned her Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations. Among her TV credits are A&E’s The Rope by Eugene O’Neill, The Two Mrs. Grenvilles with Ann-Margret and Claudette Colbert, Svengali with Peter O’Toole and Jodie Foster, Evening Shade with Burt Reynolds (for which she earned a 1991 Emmy nomination), Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, and most recently, the acclaimed HBO series Treme.

In addition to her many acting credits, Ashley was a founding member of the Board of Directors of the American Film Institute, served on the first National Council of the Arts during the administrations of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and has also served on the President’s Committee for the Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Awards.