Review: A Red Orchid Theatre’s “Mistakes Were Made”

It was all my fault

 Mistakes Were Made2

A Red Orchid Theatre presents:

Mistakes Were Made
by Craig Wright
directed by Dexter Bullard
extended through October 31st (but tickets)

reviewed by Timothy McGuire

Craig Wright, Emmy-nominated writer of the hit HBO series Six Feet Under, has created in Mistakes Were Made an entertaining and intelligently witty play, even as Oscar Nominee Michael Shannon is alone on stage throughout most of the play; his time spent engaging in frantic phone conversations, as well as therapeutic talks with his close companion Denise, his fish.

Mistakes Were Made3 Felix Artiflex (Michael Shannon) is desperately trying to put together a new play starring only the best actors and directors. He is frantically making promises beyond his control; doing anything he can to make this project a reality. Felix is a desperate man after losing someone close to him (his daughter?). We do not actually know much about his personal life, but we can tell by the way he works that there is a void in his life and a happiness that he is searching for. Felix has made some grave mistakes in his life, but he believes this new world premiere play about the French Revolution is his chance at redemption and achievement. In his attempts to fulfill all of his desires, he loses everything once again, but finds a small sense of happiness when he faces his own humility.

The stage is Felix’s office, and looks like an old fashion producer’s office from back in the 1970’s. I was surprised when I noticed that this play was taking place in relatively the present day, but considering the lack of money that sometimes comes from working in theatre, some offices no doubt still look like that in 2009. Tom Burch has designed the office littered with drama books, scripts and paperwork. Pictures of actresses and actors, that one assumes Felix has worked with in the past, are hanging on the walls. Pushed away, almost hidden amongst the paperwork and business memorabilia, are a few scattered kid’s toys showing us that there is or was a child that would come around his office.

The make-up artist Nan Zabriskie does an extraordinary job. She makes Shannon looked aged, not as an old man aged by years but by pressure and stress. Shannon’s cheeks look sucked-in, making it appear as if his skin hangs just a bit against his bone structure and his eyes look stressed like a man who hasn’t been able to relax for years.

Mistakes Were Made5 This is a piece that the audience can relate to; the fight to get others to share in your vision and the struggle to escape hardships and find better, more respectable days in the future. Craig Wright’s writing is wonderfully done, including the emotional complexity involved when working while your personal life sits in the back of your mind. Wright has written a variety of characters that Felix interacts with over the telephone creating gripping twists in the plot line, as well as a nice interjection of intelligent humor. Having some knowledge of theatre and classic plays does increase the impact of some of his jokes: since Felix is a theatre producer, the jokes are industry friendly.

The performance by Shannon lives up to the hype, as he portrays the driven attitude of a man nearing the end of his career, reaching for something that he can achieve and hold on to. I felt as if I had an idea of what had happened to Felix and how his life had reached this point. Shannon gave Felix depth and a personal past through his display of tense emotions. We have a sense that he is missing the love and respect of someone in particular without it having to be specifically said. The constant busy-ness of jumping from conversation to conversation is made light and humorous with the pleasant interruptions by the secretary, Esther, played by Mierka Girten.

Even with this gripping performance, the play was too long for a basically one man act. While watching one of the best solo performances I have seen the man next to me feel asleep, and I began to get a serious leg cramp. I recommend this show because it is a rare opportunity to see an outstanding actor perform an intelligently written piece just ten feet away from you. It is an amazing experience to watch Michael Shannon capture the whole essence of Felix’s character, although an hour and 45 minutes with no intermission is just a little too long to watch even this man.

Rating: «««

Mistakes Were Made is playing at A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 North Wells St., Chicago, Thursdays – Sundays and has now been extended through October 31.

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