San Diego, CA—It’s a comedy! It’s a tragedy! It’s a satire! It’s a tour de force! NOOOOOOOOOO! It’s all of the above and #1 comedian Phil Johnson makes it work to those ends! “Mistakes Were Made”, Craig Wright’s San Diego West Coast Premiere one-man play is now having a fine showing at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town under Shana Wride’s detailed direction.
It’s the attention to detail that keeps the energy flowing in this tour de force. Let’s take Sean Fanning’s set design combined with Angelica Ynfante’s properties …a better word might be the ‘stuff’ strewn about Felix Artifex’s (Phil Johnson) run down and cluttered office as an example: There is a thirty gallon fish tank with ‘one huge ugly Koi Goldfish’ (Denise) swimming up and down and back and fourth ((Esther Banks) that Felix has a habit of overfeeding in time of stress; a natural state for him.
On either side of his scratched desk, which holds his speakerphone with one very long chord, are a stuffed to the gills (pardon the pun) crumpled paper in a trash can, a magazine rack with old theatre magazines (I could add to that pile) and stacks of incidental papers on the floor everywhere. The walls are covered with posters from shows Felix has produced…with oddly cast stars: “Man of La Mancha” starring Erik Estrada? There are two windows in his office covered with slightly bent and off kilter Venetian blinds. Oddly, there is a framed picture next to the windows showing the sky.
Did I mention that Felix is on the B list as a producer producer?
Definition of Producer: creator, maker, money raiser, overseer. So when we first meet up with Felix he’s on the phone with a BIG, important actor trying to convince him to take a role in a play about The French Revolution, a play Felix has invested in and has spent endless time developing, called “Mistakes Were Made”. But it’s not the role of the lead. In order to close the deal with this actor, he promises to have the playwright add another character into the play, one that will guarantee the actor 30% more lines than the lead. Convincing both playwright and agent to agree to these changes is no easy task.
And so it goes. For ninety plus or minus minutes Felix shuffles through papers and makes endless notes on sticky note pads. He fields calls from clients, the playwright, business (the sheep business) partners whom we learn are being held hostage and who will be financing this venture if they ever get freed, and then to the actor and back, all the while waiting for a call from his ex. Off stage his secretary’s voice can be heard on the other end of the speakerphone (Jacque Wilke) giving him the heads up as to who is on what line and warns against overfeeding Doris.
Speaking of details, at times there are seven lines on hold at once. And the fun of it is watching Johnson flip back and fourth, change his mood and follow the conversation as fast as a jack rabbit from character to character and juggling calls while continuing to engage in one conversation after another as if he never left off from the previous one is the at the crux.
But the details can also found in what makes this man tick. Felix gets so caught up in the rewrite, because he knows ‘what’s right for people’, he tries to do what’s right; he is after all a producer. He is also master fast talk artist saying what needs to be said to move the conversation on to the next level; on to the next project and “Mistakes Were Made” is a birds eye view of what it takes, for those of us not yet versed in the art of.
Felix as channeled through Johnson works the deal like the desperate man he is as he watches his life fall apart before him pacing at one moment, disorganized and harried the next, enthusiastic and morose the next. His facial expressions happen in perfection to the changing moods of glee followed by frustration followed by inspiration and all at a blink of an eye. He is a man after all, fighting for his life hoping this will be the one big show to bring him to the A list.
Kudos for Johnson for giving us funny, frenzied, frantic and chaotic all at the same time. In other words, if you have ever been on a roller coaster, hang on! With Johnson in the lead car steering this baby, one never knows when the car will go off the track. The only time it gets stuck in neutral however, is when we are talking sheep instead of the French Revolution.
It’s a bittersweet commentary but the laughs will out especially if you are a theatre guru. As for the length of the show, shaving off some minutes (of sheep talk) might be in order.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: through October 21st
Organization: Cygnet Theatre
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 4040 Twiggs Street San Diego, CA
Ticket Prices: starting at $30.00