Mistakes Were Made
Michael Shannon takes center stage in this send-up of stage producers.
Mon Nov 15 2010
Photograph: Ari Mintz
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
How appropriate that there are gaffes in Mistakes Were Made, Craig Wright's unevenly entertaining showbiz send-up. One screw-up was definitely not the casting of brilliant Michael Shannon as Felix Artifex, a worn-out second-rate theatrical producer defeated by the grandeur of his ambitions. Shannon is terrifically funny—not a phrase ordinarily used to describe his work in brooding, bruising dramas such as Bug, Revolutionary Road or Boardwalk Empire. But it's because of Shannon's gravitas that the comedy comes through so sharply.
Felix spends most of the play on the phone with unseen and unheard industry types (and talking sweet to the fish he keeps in a tank). Mistakes is essentially a one-character show, except for interruptions from Felix's secretary (Girten). It's not the most dramatically vibrant device, but Shannon—who's grayed his eyebrows and tufts of hair to look older—and director Dexter Bullard elevate the material. Even when the actor is silently listening, he's never passive: His eyes dart with fear behind black spectacles, and frantic hand gestures reflect his growing agitation. He fidgets and stomps and hunches over his desk as he bullies, cajoles and shifts the blame, all to try to get a movie star to sign on for a French Revolution play, understatedly titled Mistakes Were Made.
If only Wright's play weren't such a slog. Whether he intends for Felix to be stuck in the past or this satire inadvertently is, the proceedings are about as fresh as an episode of The Carol Burnett Show. That's also true of Tom Burch's set, although its ramshackle quality fits, as do the posters for Felix's dubious past masterpieces: Phoebe Cates as Hedda Gabler? Shiver. Come to think of it, the prodigious Shannon could probably even play that role to perfection.
Barrow Street Theatre. By Craig Wright. Dir. Dexter Bullard. With Michael Shannon, Mierka Girten. 1hr 40mins. No intermission.