WORTH ITS WEIGHT IN GOLDFISH
As a rising star in San Diego’s theater scene, Cygnet put a lot of eggs in one basket in producing Mistakes Were Made. Fortunately, they invested in the right basket with Phil Johnson, whose ability to go broadly comedic and then reel it back in sells this show for all that it is worth. The question remains, however, as to how much this mostly one-man show is really worth.
Broadway producer and professional schmoozer Felix Artifex (Johnson) is in his office, trying to cast a new play about the French Revolution; he attempts to appease the demands of celebrities, but is faced with a writer who refuses to make script changes just to please the stars. In attempting to get everyone on board, Felix is promising everything to everyone.
Under Shana Wride’s direction, Johnson paces every inch of the floor while on the phone, conveying such varied personas to each caller that he practically fills the stage with different characters. We also get glimpses of the real Felix when he and his receptionist (the voice of Jacque Wilke via the intercom box on his desk) attempt to prioritize seven lines of incoming phone calls. We get hints as to his deeper thoughts when he confides them to his fish, Denise (a puppet cleverly manipulated by Erica Fanning inside a real tank full of water). For all of the producer’s bluster, one suspects Denise might be his closest friend.
Johnson artfully uses facial expressions, body language, and pauses to create tension in his phone calls, making them believable without slowing the show’s pace. Unfortunately, there’s only so much he can do to salvage Craig Wright’s play, which no doubt is penned as a comedy; while there are some laugh-out-loud moments, we need more to sustain the 90-minute running time. When the script wants to be more than a comedy, there wasn’t enough material to do so thoroughly. In fact, one of the most poignant plot choices crafted by Wright is all-but-lost a couple of moments later—Felix should have been reeling from what happened on that call for the rest of the play.
For much of the time, we are watching someone having a terribly stressful day at work and frequently being the cause of his own problems getting worse. It was a little too much like spending our night off stuck with that co-worker at our day job who drives us crazy with his ego and blunders. To be sure, we are a little better off in the audience than at the office, but the writing is not really powerful enough or funny enough to avoid a few moments of wishing for an intermission for a mental break in the anxiety.
The goal of Mistakes Were Made is to entertain: As Felix says, “What people want is to sit in a theatre and be happy.” Despite the play’s problems, Johnson’s energy, new plot shifts and some solid laugh lines do entertain—especially when stressed-out Felix has to deal with an agent he detests so much that he stops trying to hide it from her.
Will Felix be able to tie up his countless loose ends or will his show fall apart before it’s ever cast? Despite its setbacks, Mistakes Were Made is worth a look to find out, in a somewhat-interesting night of theater with a solid lead performance. But will the show excite audiences enough to tell their friends to break out the MasterCard? Cygnet producers may have to get on the phone themselves.
photos by Daren Scott
Mistakes Were Made
Cygnet Theatre in San Diego
scheduled to end on Oct 21, 2012
for tickets, call 619-337-1525 or visit http://www.cygnettheatre.com