Mistakes Were Made
That, of course, is not LeBow's fault since he is superb. A veteran, poised actor, he nails the character from the opening moment and it is his performance which hooks the viewer. Perhaps he improvises a bit; if that is the case, so much the better. Directed by Jeremy Cohen, the play finds Artifex hellbent upon convincing, cajoling or even berating a movie star into joining the cast for a production called Mistakes Were Made which is about the French Revolution. Encased within his New York City office, Artifex occasionally speaks with his secretary Esther (Susan Greenhill), who sits in a nearby room and communicates by phone until she appears during the final moments of the show. She is positioned beyond a translucent-like door and this is a wise staging choice.
Walt Spangler's set is detailed and just right. There are framed posters on the rear wall announcing, for example, Danny DeVito in Othello. Others indicate shows such as True West and Same Time Next Year.
The inventive and comedic touch to the piece involves Artifex' caring relationship with Denise, a large goldfish (I think it's a goldfish). The fish appears in an office aquarium tank and is adroitly manipulated by Stefano Brancato. Artifex literally pours food at Denise, the fish. Those clever sequences are laughable, touching, and even necessary. Brancanto's facility with the fake fish, a puppet he designed, allows for diversion. Artifex' affection for Denise is engaging.
The main story line finds Artifex following one rant with another during phone conversations with a likely film personality or a possible agent. You get the idea that the crass producer is driven to try most anything to get the play where he wants itand, subsequently, where it will quickly bring forth quite a bit of money.
The tenor shifts as Artifex speaks with his former wife. LeBow lends his character a second dimension here by dropping his voice. The import is that Artifex misses her, wishes that scenario were not so. Otherwise, the guy tends to nag everyone.
Let's assume that Wright, with the script, is satirizing the despairing, needy, intense producer. Call this an archetype and give the playwright his due credit. Still, Artifex is all too familiar. The exaggeration might be necessary to drive home the theme and personnel involved in that end of show business might deem this reality. The incessant insistence, however, is wearying.
Mistakes were Made runs through November 22nd at Hartford Stage. For further information, call the box office at (860) 527-5151 or visit hartfordstage.org.
- Fred Sokol