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Home / Articles / Arts / Theater /  One man can’t do it alone in ‘Mistakes Were Made’
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Wednesday, Oct 03, 2012

One man can’t do it alone in ‘Mistakes Were Made’

A review of Cygnet Theatre’s comedy tops our coverage of local productions

By David L. Coddon
theater Felix Artifex (Phil Johnson) and his pal, Denise the fish
- Photo by Daren Scott

Hearing just one side of a telephone call can be funny. Bob Newhart launched a career doing it, and no one’s done it better. That includes the harried New York producer Felix Artifex of Craig Wright’s essentially one-man show, Mistakes Were Made.

The thrust of the labored, 90-minute comedy is Artifex’s hapless attempt to close the deal on a new, aspiring Broadway show, an unlikely tale of the French Revolution titled “Mistakes Were Made.” In between popping fortifying (or stultifying?) pills and bemoaning life’s injustices to his tropical fish Denise, poor Felix is on the phone with—to name a few—the big star he wants (and needs) to sign on, the playwright who refuses to alter his script to land that big star and the shady characters from long distance who are mired in a sheep-dipping operation manufactured to finance the production. The phone calls come fast, furious and simultaneously, pushing the producer ever closer to an emotional precipice.

Phil Johnson tackles Felix in this West Coast premiere by Cygnet Theatre, and his sheer endurance is laudable. His only support on stage is the mostly off-camera Jacque Wilke (underused) as the producer’s secretary, Esther. A puppeteer manipulates Denise the fish, who, in this theatrical whirlwind of one-way conversations and exasperation, comes to be the only character worth truly caring about.

But what matters here? That Felix could stage his big production, the first that isn’t schlock? That his ex-wife might finally return his calls? Mattering wouldn’t be such a big deal if Mistakes Were Made was funnier. Its laughs are sporadic, in spite of Johnson’s annoyed or desperate facial expressions and a few sight gags.

If only Esther could pop into the office now and again and disrupt his calls in person. If only one snippet of phone conversation was as wacko as the poster hanging on the office wall for a production of Man of La Mancha starring Erik Estrada.

If only Bob Newhart, phone in hand, could come to the rescue.

Theater insiders no doubt will appreciate Felix’s maddening struggles. The rest of us wonder why he doesn’t just use his answering machine.

Mistakes Were Made runs through Oct. 21 at the Old Town Theatre. $34-$59.

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Around the World in 80 Days: It’s 1872 and smart guy Phileas Fogg sets out to prove he can get around the globe in less than three months. How quaint! In previews from Oct. 5 through 11, it opens for real on Oct. 12 at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado.

The Exit Interview: Professor Dick Fig is canned from his job in this sharp comedy about politics, religion, the media and truth. Now in previews, it opens for real on Oct. 5 at the Lyceum Space at Horton Plaza, Downtown.

Footloose: The Musical: We neglected to include this show, about a teenager from the city who shows a conservative small town how to have a good time, in last week’s listings. Produced by San Diego Musical Theatre, it’s playing through Oct. 14 at the Birch North Park Theatre. 

Julia: In a world-premiere political thriller set in 1970s San Diego, the wife of a Mexican presidential candidate is drawn to her chauffer. Presented by Ion Theatre, it’s in previews now and opens for real Oct. 6 at BLK BOX @ 6th & Penn Theatre. 

Kita y Fernanda: Two girls—one a have, the other a have-not—grow up together under the same roof in Texas. Now in previews, it opens for real on Oct. 5 at the 10th Avenue Theatre, Downtown. 

Once on This Island: In this one-act musical, the power goes out during a house-warming party in New Orleans and the attendees gather ‘round for a comforting story. Runs Oct. 5, 6, 11, 12 and 13 at C3 Performing Arts Center in Grantville.

Now Playing

Sweeney Todd: A barbaric barber slices and dices his customers, and his pal the baker bakes them into her pies. Yum! Through Oct. 6 at the Moonlight Stage in Vista.

The 39 Steps: A spy tries to stop military secrets from getting out of the United Kingdom in this romantic comedy based on the Hitchcock movie. Through Oct. 7 at the MiraCosta College Theatre in Oceanside.

Jekyll & Hyde: The musical version of the classic struggle between good and evil is presented by Broadway San Diego and runs through Oct. 7 at the Civic Theatre, Downtown.

Perfect Wedding: In the opener of Scripps Ranch Theatre’s 34th season, a man wakes up next to a naked, unfamiliar woman on his wedding day. Runs through Oct. 7 at Scripps Ranch Theatre.

Same Time, Next Year: Once every 12 months, George and Doris, who are married, but to other people, meet for a tryst. Fun with 1970s-era infidelity! Through Oct. 7 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad.

Sam Bendrix at the Bon Soir: It’s 1958 in Greenwich Village, and a singer and his band are performing their last New York gig before skedaddling out of town. Presented as part of La Jolla Playhouse’s Without Walls program, it runs through Oct. 10 at Martinis Above Fourth in Hillcrest.

Pippin: A boy prince searches for the meaning of life in this re-imagined version of the 1971 musical. Runs through Oct. 14 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights.

Allegiance—A New American Musical: Star Trek’s George Takei stars in this remembrance of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Through Oct. 21 on the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park.

Glengarry Glen Ross: David Mamet’s searing play follows a handful of real-estate salesmen pitted against one another in a lose-and-your-fired contest. Through Oct. 21 at La Jolla Playhouse.

Mistakes Were Made: In a West Coast premiere, an embattled B-list theater producer attempts to mount an epic show about the French Revolution. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs through Oct. 21 at Old Town Theatre.

Doris and Me: A man simply can’t get enough of midcentury singer and actor Doris Day, who, incidentally, is still alive at 88 years old. Through Oct. 23 at Welk Resorts Theatre in Escondido.

Good People: A lower-class South Boston woman loses her cashier job and goes to her old boyfriend, a doctor, for help. Through Oct. 28 at The Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in Balboa Park.

Rent: Here’s your chance to see this musical, about young adults struggling to survive in New York, if you missed it recently the Birch North Park Theatre. Through Oct. 28 at Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido.

The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek: In a small town during the Great Depression, a speeding train beckons a couple of bored teens. Through Oct. 28 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando.

miXtape: Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb’s Players Theatre, it runs through Nov. 25 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown.

Once Upon a Wedding: Zaniness abounds during a wedding gone horribly wrong, and it does so while patrons dine aboard a boat making its way around Mission Bay, beginning at the Bahia Resort Hotel. Runs on various dates through Dec. 13.

Crime Pays: A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill.