review: mistakes were made

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Mistakes Were Made

By Craig Wright
Directed by Dexter Bullard
Featuring Michael Shannon and Mierka Girten
Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow Street
production web site:
http://www.mistakesweremadenyc.com/

November 5th, 2010 — January 2, 2011

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
November 6, 2010 (preview)

  • “This could be your Streetcar … as the King or whatever.” (Felix to bankable star)
  • “Some kid with hair on his nuts and a gun.” (Felix on young man action hero role)
  • “No I don’t want to hear the details.  Details are a gateway drug.” (Felix to person telling him a story he doesn’t want to hear)

The premise is familiar — one guy trying to make a deal.  Tension builds as that deal is or is not made.  A theatrical producer’s office, scripts on the floor, 40-year-old furniture, a multi-line phone and a secretary outside fielding calls, a window through which sounds of the city and a sudden thunder storm are heard, a file cabinet, and a fish tank.  The drama is the journey; the story is desperation; the mysteries of the characters are revealed only as necessary to move the plot along; and the only life and death drama involves a fish.

Felix Artifex (Michael Shannon), a New York based theatrical producer and self-described “purveyor of frippery” (my favorite phrase of the month) fields calls from a young Hollywood star who wants to tread the boards, a playwright who has dreamed up a big French Revolution play, an ex-wife actress he wants to attract to the project, some folks involved in a sheep dipping enterprise he only got into as a silent partner to raise capital for this theatre adventure and suddenly it’s all gotten political in the land where the sheep are being transported.  And Felix and secretary Esther (Mierka Girten), attempt to keep it all together.  And the office fish (operated by puppeteer Sam Deutsch) responds to Felix, eats fish food, and provides atmosphere.  “Don’t feed the fish.”

That’s our journey.  The title of the play is the title of the project being pitched and is, well, the story of Felix and of all of us.  Mistakes were made.  Playwright Craig Wright who writes smart dialogue and revelatory situations (Grace, Lady, and The Unseen for starters) here takes on a monologue with phone calls, conversations with self and conversations with fish.  For a purpose: pitching the perfect story.  Director Dexter Bullard crafts scenes within dialogues and multiple acts in the playing areas and the beats of this script.  The set by Tom Burch puts us in the place with aspirations but no resources, and perhaps limited taste.  Posters of past productions adorning the walls of the office include Phoebe Cates in Hedda Hopper and in the hallways outside Roseanne Barr in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  Larry Hagman‘s headshot is featured prominently above the file cabinet.  In the context of one of the pitch speeches Felix describes himself as “the theatrical equivalent of Pussy Galore”.  My yes.

Ninety intermission-less minutes of acting bravura.  And a fish.

© Martha Wade Steketee (November 7, 2010)

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