Michael Shannon is one of the hardest-working actors on any New York stage right now. His manic theatre producer caricature in Mistakes Were Made operates at maximum energy in an extended scene of frenetic desperation. Craig Wright’s new play snapshots 90 minutes in one producer’s life, and this (mostly) one-man show lets the audience indulge in Shannon’s inspired characterization.
The producer in question is Felix Artifex, a hard-working guy with Broadway aspirations and downtown credentials. He finds his would-be break with a new play (aptly titled Mistakes Were Made) about the French Revolution (irreverence abounds). And with some crafty coercing he convinces a big time movie star to commit to the project. While casting decisions are being worked out, Felix juggles actor demands regarding the script with the unwavering playwright. At the same time, fundraising attempts become perilous, as the dangerous sheep industry overseas takes captives and threatens the project’s financial stability. And Felix’s composure unravels.
A lot goes on in an hour and a half, and all the while Felix sorts out his sagas over the phone. Switching from call to call with his assistant Esther (Mierka Girten) managing the lines, he finagles the simultaneous conversations. In the brief moments when Felix isn’t on the phone, he finds solace in a one-sided conversation with his well-fed goldfish.
It is a testament to Shannon’s skill and Dexter Bullard’s direction that Mistakes Were Made avoids any trap of turning into a one-note show. It is remarkably layered and effervescent for a play that takes place in one room with usually just one actor. It teeters on the edge of silly without indulging too much, incorporating humor that matches the heightened reality of the moment without treading into nonsensical territory.
As we learned from Mel Brooks, the eager producer character can be an endearing, self-referential puppet. While Felix is seemingly less weasely than The Producers’ duo Leo and Max, his aggressive work ethic under extreme circumstances provides the same opportunities for physical comedy and one-liners galore. Wright embraces the inherent humor and allows the audience a voyeuristic glimpse into Felix’s implosion. Shannon is more than apt to the challenge of embodying the fated producer and he delivers a committed performance with total conviction. It’s his world, and he doesn’t disappoint.
Especially relevant for theatre fans, but probably just as entertaining for those who are not, Mistakes Were Made is a rollicking absurdist comedy that actually feels quite authentic. Shannon’s performance and Wright’s acerbic script make the production well worth seeing.
Mistakes Were Made plays at the Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow St., through Mon 2/28. Performances are Tue-Fri 7:30 PM and Sat-Sun 2:30 and 7:30 PM. Tickets are $65, or $40 with discount code MWMTC3, and are available at smarttix.com or by calling 212-868-4444. For more show info visit barrowstreettheatre.com, and for more New York theatre reviews visit theasy.com.