Theater gets skewered at Hartford Stage
HARTFORD - Will Lebow is pretty much the whole show in “Mistakes Were Made,” the manic one-act comedy by Craig Wright currently on the boards at Hartford Stage. Following their mammoth undertaking of Horton Foote’s “Orphan’s Home Cycle” last month, the theatre clearly felt the need to downsize. Mr. Wright’s repetitive, fitfully amusing comedy about contemporary theatre and the producers who try to make it fly on Broadway, depends an awful lot on the resources and pluck of Mr. Lebow. They could do a lot worse.
Lebow plays Felix Artifex, a harried New York producer who spends the majority of his time during “Mistakes Were Made” making deals on the phone for a new play based on the French Revolution called, oddly enough, “Mistakes Were Made.” As targets go, ruthless producers are pretty much like shooting fish in a barrel and, speaking of fish, Lebow isn’t necessarily alone on the Hartford Stage. He shares his office with a bubbling aquarium whose sole occupant is a foot-long koi named “Denise”. The fish (a puppet operated by an unseen Stefano Brancato) serves as a sounding board for Felix’s interior monologues when he’s not on the phone.
Also just offstage is Felix’s long-suffering secretary, Esther (Susan Greenhill), seen mostly in effective silhouette (credit lighting designer Marcus Doshi) by the office door. Ms. Greenhill’s delightful voice over the office intercom is a much-needed distraction from Felix’s run-on phone monologues. Craig Wright obviously knows of what he speaks. A successful writer for television (“Six Feet Under,” “Dirty Sexy Money”), Wright paints a cynical portrait here of the commerce behind art. Early on in “Mistakes Were Made” Felix, in an attempt to woo a hot movie actor, suggests that “the text is only a jumping-off point” as he eagerly promises the star numerous rewrites before bothering to check in with the playwright.
This is humorous to a point, but at 90 minutes Mr. Wright really doesn’t real show us anything new that we haven’t already witnessed from such early showbiz films as “The Sweet Smell of Success” and “The Producers” or current television offerings like “Entourage.” Felix’s rants on the phone become increasingly tedious and the humor dissipates. The novelty of the puppet fish also eventually goes nowhere in the writing and becomes more distraction than inspiration. The play turns dark near its conclusion and comparisons with recent conflicts abroad are referenced (the title, itself, points to this). But by this time, it all seems desperate and very, very tired.
Mr. Lebow, popping antacids like they were M&Ms, screaming into his phone and frenetically feeding his beloved Denise, delivers a highly energized and skillful performance but he can’t salvage a moribund play. Walt Spangler’s nifty scenic design, however, is a continual pleasure to view and somewhat funnier than the script. Look closely at the walls and you’ll note several faux theatre posters of Felix’s dubious successes: Suzanne Somers as “Medea” and Danny DeVito playing “Othello” are two of the most inspired on display.
One small, final complaint. There appears to be an annoying trend happening at the conclusion of one-person vehicles lately. Some actors seem to be commenting on their performances at curtain — looking both exhausted and thrilled with themselves while displaying a look to the audience as though saying, “Can you believe I just did all that by myself?” I first noticed this at TheatreWorks last May after Annalee Jefferies’ solo work in “The Year of Magical Thinking” and Mr. Lebow offered the same “Aren’t I amazing?” look to the audience at the conclusion of his play. Enough already. You’re actors! One of the requirements of that profession is to learn lines. Let the audience decide whether it was a significant accomplishment or not.
“Mistakes Were Made” continues at Hartford Stage through Nov. 22. For more information or ticket reservations call the box office at 860-527-5151 or visit www.hartfordstage.org.
Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle Web site www.ctcritics.org.