Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 10, 2009

Mistakes Were Made

Hartford Stage, Hartford
through November 22, 2009
by Shera Cohen

Hartford Stage has a deserved excellent and long-running reputation of presenting quality productions - in all areas including costumes, special effects, sets, acting, and direction. First and foremost, however, is play selection. Certainly, no one anticipates that every audience member will enjoy every play mounted at Hartford Stage. That is an unrealistic hope, not only in Hartford, but for all theatre companies. That said, "Mistakes Were Made" singles itself out, unfortunately, as the play that puts a crimp in a long list of years of A+ work.

You can't win them all, and "Mistakes Were Made" has many mistakes. Plays about plays usually don't work. Save for "Noises Off" (a hysterical comedy at HS last season), the dialogue is too inside, with the playgoers either unsympathetic to the characters or not understanding the roles. Another general problem is that many audience members do not wish to attend a one-actor piece. There is an offstage female voice - a woman who does appear once for a minute - and a couple of fish, but they don't count much. Yes, there are the exceptions; i.e. Hal Holbrook has become synonymous with Mark Twain. In this case, the character is a theatre producer (Felix) with Will Lebow in the role. While Lebow makes a monumental effort and does yeoman's work, the script is not sufficient enough to warrant his labors. Felix is a fast-talking, used-car salesman in show biz. His specialty is schlock shows. The entire play is a series of phone calls with soliloquies directed to the fish interspersed. "Mistakes" tries to combine Bob Newhart's exasperation (the rotary phone has been replaced) with Neil Simon one-liners. Neither work very well.

Playwright Craig Wright has excellent credentials. In many ways, this seems to be a first draft of a play that could go somewhere. The story builds and adds moments of drama, but these are only teases. Fleshing out the plot along with glimpses of substance earlier in the dialogue will help this play immensely. Billed as a comedy, there are some audience smiles and chuckles.