Mistakes Were Made
Written by Craig Wright
Directed by Dexter Bullard
An actor friend who sometimes waits on Michael Shannon tells me why he thinks the Oscar-nominated actor took the lead in Mistakes Were Made
, a splenetic showbiz satire at the Barrow Street Theatre
(through February 27): talking into a telephone is, like, the hardest thing for an actor to do, and here Shannon does little else for 90 minutes. The practically one-man show is an acting exercise that Shannon aces, stomping and shouting through it with uncanny verve. He plays Felix Artifex, theater producer and throwback: he wears suspenders; his name is hand-painted on the door of a wood-furnished office with a desk lamp that's the same shade of green as a bookkeeper's visor. Tom Burch's set and Tif Bullard's costumes look decades out of date, like Artifex's office and wardrobe are hand-me-downs from a dead grandfather. It underlines that he's a two-bit, wannabe exec, trying to claw his way into the big time.
He's trying to produce a new play called, what else, Mistakes Were Made
(the show is mildly self-aware), described as a Les Mis
-scale epic about the French Revolution. He puffs up a potential star and the play's scribe, asking for absurd revisions from the latter to appease the former. Artifex acts a sycophant with the talent and a barking bully with underlings and agents; he tells the artists what they want to hear (concluding conversations with "thank you for being you") but can't get anyone on his side. By the end of the show, he is under siege, involved not just in talking down righteous writers, egocentric actors, agitated agents and an exasperated ex, but also in coordinating a Mid-East sheep drive fundraiser that's been overtaken by terrorists. It's hilarious, rip-roaring backstage lampoonery, with a poignant edge about how morons and moneymen impede artistic creations.
But however funny or subtly touching Wright's text might be, it's Shannon who makes it worth the $65. In and out of six conversations at once, he begins the performance slumped in his chair, sliding around his office, sharing his dreams with a tropical fish puppeteered by Sam Deutsch. Artifax is a high-strung character, but Shannon's physical agitation progresses slowly: first comes nail biting, then pill popping. He switches from receiver to hands-free, so he can pace the office. By the climax, he's spitting and screaming, pinching his left hand as though to check for a coronary, and undoing his pants to shit on his chair. Hanging up the telephone in outrage, he smashes it into pieces. "Out of all the things I could've done in my life," he screeches, "why am I in the fucking theater?" In Mike Shannon's case, though, the answer's obvious: because you're so fucking good, dude. Thank you for being you.
(photo credit: Ari Minz)