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A CurtainUp Review
Mistakes Were Made

The only wrong way to think about scripts is the way that doesn't get them produced.— Felix
Michael Shannon (Photo: Ari Mintz)
b> In Craig Wright's new Comedy Mistakes Were Made the title is supposed to refer to a play small-time, fast-talking producer Felix Artifex (Michael Shannon) is desperately trying to get onstage. The play, by a relatively unknown writer, is about the French Revolution, which makes the title something of an understatement. But as the play progresses it becomes clear that the mistakes in question exist on many levels.

Despite the able support of Mierka Girten as the mostly offstage voice of Esther, Felix's long-suffering secretary, Mistakes Were Made is basically a solo show charting the mental breakdown of a man desperate to make his project work while he is overwhelmed by circumstance. Shannon is unforgettable and irrepressible as an ordinary guy who is brought to a cliff and given a glimpse of the Promised Land at the same time. Will he fall off, retreat or somehow attain an impossible goal without killing himself?

The obstacles Felix faces are myriad: an idealistic and naïve author, a potential lead actor with an ego as big as his salary, business partners who are missing in action. We never hear the voice of any of these individuals on the other side of the phone. But Felix's responses speak eloquent volumes.

Felix's only solace comes from Denise, a pet fish he feeds in times of stress, despite Esther's warnings that this will harm his aquatic friend. Esther's calm fortitude might also be a help if she weren't constantly the messenger bringing more bad news. Every time Felix answers the phone she tells him another associate is waiting on a different line with new demands, excuses or questions. It would certainly be enough to drive a lesser man crazy.

Wright's dialogue is exceptionally clever. Who could resist lines like "No I don't want to hear the details. Details are a gateway drug?" Ninety-five minutes is a long time for a show that has only one character onstage for most of that time and only one theme. But Dexter Bullard's energetic direction and Shannon's timing and characterization are so perfect for most of that time the audience is entranced.

Set designer Tom Burch, making his off-Broadway debut, certainly makes an impression with this shabby Manhattan office. Felix's office, with its messy desk, metal file cabinet and rusty old radiator, is so evocative that the audience can easily imagine what Esther's outer office must look like.

Even Shannon's robust performance cannot hide that the play is a little too long and Wright leaves the audience with many intriguing questions about Felix's past and his relationship with his ex-wife that might have been profitably answered. Yet, watching Shannon's response to his various adversaries — his manipulation, his sweet-talk, his defiance — and his many near breakdowns is an intriguing experience.

Mistakes Were Made is often funny and occasionally very funny with its humor rooted in Felix's understanding of his predicament and his frenetic reactions. It is self-awareness that he lacks. But let's not forget how many years it took the French to realize the mistakes they made after the storming of the Bastille.

Mistakes Were Made
By Craig Wright
Directed by Dexter Bullard Cast: Michael Shannon (Felix Artifex), Mierka Girten (Esther), Sam Deutsch (Puppeteer)
Costume Design: Tif Bullard
Set Design: Tom Burch
Sound Design: Joseph Fosco
Lighting Design: Keith Parham
Prop Design: Michele Spadaro
Hair & Make-up Design: Nan Zabriskie
Production Stage Manager: Richard A. Hodge
Running Time: 95 minutes
Barrow Street Theater 27 Barrow Street (212) 868-4444
From 11/06/10; opening 11/14/10; closing 2/27/11
Through December: Tuesdays through Friday at 7:30pm, Saturday at 2:30pm & 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm, with special added performances on Friday, 11/26 at 2:30pm and 12/5 at 7:30pm. No performance Thanksgiving Day. Christmas and New Year's schedule (Dec. 20 through Jan 2): Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30pm, Saturday and Sunday at 2:30pm & 7:30pm. There are no performances on Friday 12/24 and 12/31. Beginning Jan. 4: Tuesday through Friday at 7:30pm, Saturday and Sunday at 2:30pm and 7:30pm
Tickets: $65
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Nov. 14, 2010
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