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Thursday, 08 September 2011 20:56

Charming and deceptive: Midnight Company's 'Mistakes Were Made'

Written by Robert Mitchell
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The Details

Anybody who’s been following St. Louis theatre for a while pretty much knows that Joe Hanrahan is the undisputed King of the one-man show in this burg. And they also know that it is unusual for him to give a less than bravura performance. So, chalk up another one, as Hanrahan tackles the part of a Broadway producer who is 10% confident, 90% con-man in Craig Wright’s Mistakes Were Made.

Truthfully, this is not strictly a one-man show. Onstage characters include a trusty secretary who deftly handles the myriad of calls coming through the office (she does have a few lines), and an overfed goldfish named Denise (who, though, strangely enough, you kind of expect it to speak, doesn’t). In fact, 95% of this show takes place in these phone calls (a big trick to write, and even a tougher trick to act – who can make 90 minutes of phone calls bearable? In lesser hands, I might have had to shoot myself.).

Producer Felix Artifex is putting together the deal of his life, as he attaches Hollywood’s hottest new hunk to star in an epic drama about the French Revolution entitled Mistakes Were Made. Unfortunately, the part he promises is little more than a walk-on. Thus, in order to keep the star (which, of course, is where they’re gonna make the money with this overblown piece of crap) happy, he needs to talk his fledgling (and very protective) playwright into fluffing up the part so that it has at least 30% more lines that the current lead character. This turns out to be the least of his problems. Felix has to deal with a veritable army of people in order to keep the deal afloat: an actor who decides he has better ideas for the script; a playwright who rightfully wants to keep his script as it is; his English director - who seems to need a kick in the pants; a mysterious Belgium woman who after a probable one-nighter became his trusted business partner, but is now decidedly MIA; the theater owner who is threatening to pull the plug in order to bring in Billy Ray and Miley Cyrus to star in To Kill A Mockingbird – The Musical!; a costumer who needs to know exactly how much fabric she needs to buy – NOW!; a group of 10 shepherds who are delivering 10 truckloads of sheep through an unknown Middle eastern desert to a dipping facility – the selling of said sheep being the sole financial backing for the show; the writer’s agent – furious that Felix is trying to snow her client; a slew of representatives from the agency employing the hot hunk’s former girlfriend, who has absolutely no interest in co-starring with her ex, because she hates him, and a LITERAL army of rebel alliance, who plan to abscond off with the sheep; as well as Feliz’s ex-wife, who he’s obviously desperately still in love with, but hasn’t returned his calls in years. As each person he talks to takes him further and further from the completion of the project, Felix has to use every trick in the book to make sure that “the show must go on”.

Hanrahan handles the lion’s share of the evening’s proceedings, alternatively charming and deceptive, while slowly being driven insane. I happened to see the very last show of the run, and it did seem to me that Hanrahan seemed a little beat down by an audience that didn’t seem to get the majority of the Hollywood and theater in-jokes, and the exhaustion of performing 90 minutes twice in one day. Though his energy seemed down, his attention to clear intention more than carried the show. Emily Piro was disarmingly sweet and patient as Felix’s secretary Esther, handling each call with obvious care for her boss’ health and sanity, as well as stern concern for the health of the goldfish Denise. Even though she is deluged with these calls, you get the sense that she truly believes that Felix will make this show happen. Piro is a fine actor who deserves more roles in the St. Louis theater community.

Direction by Sarah Whitney takes advantage of her long-time association with Hanrahan and Midnight Company. She seems to know how to pull his best – although I think I would’ve liked to have seen the pace speed up considerably, as each problem becomes harder and harder to deal with. Set design was both simple and deceptively detailed, highlighted by three huge posters of Felix’s earlier (and ridiculous) hits. Lights were also simple and functional for a producer’s office, and the costuming and sound design was unobtrusive, letting us focus on the actor.

All in all, another fine production by Hanrahan, and the Midnight Company.

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