YOU KNOW WHAT you're getting when you go into a one-person show. The performance will be great fun to watch: One actor on a stage, hitting all the highs and lows a full cast would hit in another play. It's necessarily a great performance, and you just hope the script will live up to its actor.
In Artist Repertory Theatre's production of the Craig Wright almost-one-person show Mistakes Were Made, New York theater producer Felix Artifex (Michael Mendelson, who directs and stars after a family emergency caused original star Todd Van Voris to leave the production) covers the bases: he screams profanities, stares at his gargantuan koi fish, sinks to the floor in a crush of despair.
Switching between the flashing lines on the phone on his desk, Felix juggles calls with a teen-idol actor, a playwright with pesky integrity, the playwright's agent, and a theater owner, all while trying to ignore a handful of seedy characters involved in an ongoing crisis in the Middle East.
Wright's script gives Mendelson opportunity to whip back and forth between red-faced rage and dripping faux-sweetness as he juggles the phone lines, yells at his secretary (Lucy Paschall's voice and shadow), obsessively feeds his fish (a funny puppet controlled by puppeteer Liz Ghiz), and pops pills with notable ferocity.
Naturally, it's the person he can't talk to that upsets Felix the most: His ex-wife won't return his calls, and something unspoken between them is crucial to the play. But it's the person he won't talk to that causes the most drama: That crisis in the Middle East is the only part of this play that feels fresh.
For the most part, Felix yells and cries about the same things everyone yells and cries about in plays about putting on plays: art and business, art and life, life and business. Even when it works, it works in predictable ways. Mendelson's performance is good and varied in those scenes, but of course it is; that's the point.
We don't go to the theater just to see a great performance, we go to see something unexpected. What you don't expect is the hilarious, sobering side story about a hostage situation in the desert. Wright's script lets it unfold at a fantastic pace, because it's happening not just offstage, but thousands of miles away. It makes what would be just another well-acted play about the theater into something affecting and powerful.