Felix Artifex is a third rate theater producer who is trying to secure a Broadway production for what could be the biggest deal of his career. He has some financing from an unusual source and is trying to secure a contract with a popular movie star to be in the play about the French Revolution, written by a young, unknown playwright. “Mistakes Were Made” by Craig Wright, which takes place in Felix’s office, consists of 75 minutes of phone calls to and from everyone- from his ex-wife and his co-producer to the playwright, the star, and others ,while his unseen secretary, Esther, takes the calls and relays the information to Felix.
Also in the office is Denise, the large fish in a tank by the wall, who he talks to and constantly feeds despite warnings from Esther that the fish shouldn’t be fed. Essentially, it is a one-person show and though Felix talks with so many people on the phone, we never hear their voices- only his reaction to their wants and needs as he tries desperately to put together the production.
What we quickly discover is that Felix will go to any length to make this venture happen. We watch as he mollifies Johnnie Bledsoe, the star, who doesn’t want to play King Louis but seeks to have the play altered to include a child (played by him) and even eliminate King Louis from the tale. Felix tries to persuade the young playwright to rewrite the play. And he lies to everyone about the progress he is making. It is not one call after another, but three and four calls at a time.
While the mistakes in the title of the play refer to mistakes regarding the French Revolution, it is clear that there are a myriad of mistakes regarding the writing, the casting, the financing (which depends upon the sale of flocks of sheep in Arab lands being threatened by a revolutionary group) of the production Felix is trying to mount. There is even a hint at a mistake Felix made regarding his daughter’s death. On top of that are the silly mistakes- Shakespeare made a mistake in not making his king the main character or the constant mistaking the name of Robespierre who Felix calls Pierre.
It is a very intense evening and it is challenging to follow all the calls that are on the many different phone lines coming in to the office, let alone the people Felix is putting on hold. It is funny for a while, but then becomes a bit overwhelming and tiring. There is a human element that is lacking in Wright’s play. He’s driving the story along one track when it could use more variation. We want to know more about Felix, about his family. We want to see not only his bravado but his angst.
Tony Braithwaite is masterful as Felix in the way he handles the barrage of phone calls and he has a superbly understated knack for handling the many comedic elements of the play. I can’t think of another actor who could pull off such a piece. But his acting wasn’t enough to carry the play for 75 minutes I just wish I could do what Felix is trying to do in the play with the young playwright- convince the author of “Mistakes were Made” to rework the play.
“Mistakes Were Made” by Craig Wright at Act II Playhouse, 56, E. Butler Ave., Ambler, PA 19002, 215-654-0200, www.act2.org. Thru April 16, 2023.