"Here's the deal," fast-talking theater producer Felix Artifex intones into a phone as he attempts to persuade a cocky movie star to act in an ambitious new Broadway play about the French Revolution. For the next 90 minutes, Mistakes Were Made (which is also the title of Artifex's production) revels in the art of the deal. This typically irreverent offering from the Midnight Company is a breezy spoof about the wreckage that occurs when art and commerce collide.
As he strives to assemble his Revolutionary package, Felix depends on phone calls to keep the deal alive in the same way trauma victims are sustained by transfusions. But because Felix must navigate a slippery world where no one will simply say yes, he resorts to a twisted kind of doublespeak. "You can't tell a thing is doomed until you try it," he insists with the kind of perverse logic that once motivated George Armstrong Custer. As Felix attempts to cajole and placate actors, directors, playwrights, agents and theater landlords, Mistakes Were Made settles into a groove so surreal that it doesn't even seem wrong when Felix's only confidante turns out to be a goldfish named Denise.
It does, though, seem slightly self-serving that in this intermissionless marathon by Craig Wright, the sole uncorrupted presence (goldfish aside) is the playwright. Wright might have made a more persuasive case for his lofty profession had he written a tighter script. (The subplot about Felix's venture into sheep dipping as a financial investment enhances the evening not at all.) There's no question that Joe Hanrahan delivers a gung-ho performance as the harried producer. But the play feels so overwritten that by evening's end, Hanrahan's bravura has as much to do with endurance and memorization as with the nuances of portrayal.
Hanrahan receives charming support from Emily Piro as his vigilant secretary, Esther. As fresh as the flower in her hair, Esther personifies the naiveté Felix doubtless felt for theater back when he was a neophyte.
Although there are only two actors onstage, the play (directed by Sarah Whitney) receives additional support from a poster on the office wall that promotes one of Felix's earlier productions. The poster simply states: SHATNER – LEAR. William Shatner's Mona Lisa stare peers down on Felix's desperate monologues as a sorry reminder of theater gone wrong. But Shatner's impassive gaze — indeed, his very career — also reminds us that theater practitioners are blessed with more lives than the proverbial cat. If Mistakes Were Made fails to open on Broadway, not to worry. A musical version of To Kill a Mockingbird with Miley Cyrus as Scout Finch is waiting in the wings.
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