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THEATER REVIEW: “Mistakes Were Made” mucks the yucks at Cygnet Theatre

“I’m just someone who tries to do what’s right for other people,” Broadway producer Felix Artifex (Phil Johnson) says to one of his many exasperating callers in Craig Wright’s “Mistakes Were Made.”

Felix is trying to sign Johnny, a Big Star, for “Mistakes Were Made,” a new play about the French Revolution. Johnny wants a rewrite and a much larger part. Playwright Steven and his agent are standing firm on no rewrites. A suspicious funding scheme involving sheep in the desert (apparently somewhere in the Middle East) has resulted in hostage taking. And Felix’s ex-wife Dolores won’t return his calls.

Just an average day in the life – and a hilarious 90 minutes of entertainment for patrons of Cygnet Theatre. The West Coast premiere of “Mistakes Were Made,” deftly directed and paced by Shana Wride, plays through Oct. 21.

The show takes place in Felix’s messy office and consists almost entirely of a buzzing intercom, brief conversations with Felix’s secretary Esther (played by Jacque Wilke, unseen until nearly the end) and phone calls with callers.

It’s the details that make the show: Sean Fanning’s set has overflowing waste baskets, a magazine rack with old theater magazines, two windows with slightly off-kilter Venetian blinds and that speakerphone with an extremely long cord.

Felix – who, from the look of the posters of his past, er, triumphs (Erik Estrada in “Man of La Mancha;” Danny Bonaduce in “Wait ‘Til Vinnie Gets Here”), is a B-lister – hopes this play will give him the status he feels he deserves.

So he stalks around, bluetooth or phone to ear, cajoling, wheedling, suggesting, flattering, and doing whatever seems necessary to get this show on the boards.

He’s alone here except for a grossly overweight goldfish named Denise (operated by puppeteer Esther Banks), whom Felix loves to overfeed.

Johnson is terrific, changing attitudes and persuasion techniques with each call, scribbling notes on a post-it pad, responding to seemingly unending and unreasonable requests with answers he hopes will placate the callers enough.

The script it best when it sticks to things theatrical. Felix’s comment to the playwright is one of my favorites: “I’ve got a little news flash for you: the world is not waiting for a play! Okay? They just want somewhere cool to sit in the dark and be happy, you know, it could be ‘Mistakes Were Made,’ it could be ‘Mamma Mia,’ it could be fuc*in’ Muppets, they don’t care!”

But it seems overlong, and could use some judicious cuts in the parts not directly related to theater. The sheep and hostage tangent, for example, doesn’t add much, nor does the unresolved problem with ex-wife Dolores.

Like another show Cygnet has staged – the one-man “Fully Committed,” where an actor fields calls from wannabe diners at a tony, difficult to book restaurant – “Mistakes Were Made” is an opportunity for an actor to shine for 90 minutes on his own, and Johnson takes full advantage.

The details

“Mistakes Were Made” plays through Oct. 21 at Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs St. in Old Town.

Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.

For tickets, call 619-337-1525 ext. 3 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.