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Mistakes Were Made

Michael Shannon gives an awe-inspiring performance as a frazzled Broadway producer in Craig Wright's devastatingly funny play.

By New York City
Michael Shannon in Mistakes Were Made
(© Ari Mintz)
Michael Shannon in Mistakes Were Made
(© Ari Mintz)
Much has been made -- and rightly so -- of the 30-minute monologue brilliantly delivered by Mark Rylance in La Bete, but that feat of verbiage is practically child's play compared to the 90-minutes of dialogue being spewed spectacularly by Michael Shannon in Craig Wright's devastatingly funny and ultimately poignant play, Mistakes Were Made, being given its New York premiere at the Barrow Street Theatre. And like Rylance's work, Shannon's performance, as guided here by director Dexter Bullard, is simply awe-inspiring.

In some ways, the work is the flip side of La Bete, which focuses on the plight of a playwright trying to maintain his artistic integrity. Here, Wright asks for a bit of sympathy for the devil -- specifically veteran Broadway producer Felix Artifex (Shannon), a man of both questionable intentions (possibly good) and questionable means of getting what he wants (mostly bad).

The real-time work takes place during one of the most frustrating days of Felix's probably miserable life, as he sits and paces in his cluttered, almost disgusting office (well rendered by Tom Burch). Felix has already sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars developing Mistakes Were Made, a new script by an unknown playwright about the French Revolution, and getting it to Broadway is proving to be no easy task. He's finally gotten a movie hunk du jour to tentatively agree to star in the work, provided a couple of significant changes are made -- which neither the writer nor his hard-nosed agent are willing to consider.

As for the not-so-small matter of additional financing, Felix has gotten into a shady scheme concerning sheep dipping in a foreign country (seemingly in the Middle East), where the drivers and their cargo are now being held hostage by flame-throwing terrorists, and a local security firm can't even be bought for last-minute protection.

As Felix fields an ever-rotating series of phone calls from these and other parties -- with the assistance of his mostly unseen secretary Esther (a very effective Mierka Gierten) -- his moods change like quicksilver. Once on the phone, his words flow like verbal diarrhea, and Felix speaks in an increasingly rapid mixture of aphorisms, metaphors, homilies, self-deprecation, threats, profanity, and sheer nonsense, all of which are little more than means to a momentary end.

In his most reflective (and occasionally sincere) moments, Felix converses with his pet fish Denise (brought vividly to life by puppetteer Sam Deutch) -- whom he is obviously and dangerously overfeeding -- and awaits a call back from his long-estranged ex-wife. When Wright finally makes that conversation happen, not long before play's end, he reveals yet another dimension to Felix, and Shannon masterfully adds yet another layer to his complex portrayal of a man hanging on to an unfulifllled life by a thread.

Wright has long proven himself one of the theater's best dialogue writers, and the script is filled with many a gem worth remembering and repeating. (The four-way call between Felix, the writer, the agent, and the star is particularly hilarious!) It must be noted, though, that the work will resonate far more strongly with anyone who works in theater than most of the general public.

Moreover, trimming about 15 minutes wouldn't hurt, as the play's sketch-like set-up occasionally becomes apparent. Still, it would be a mistake to miss Mistakes Were Made and the extraordnary performance at its center.


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