Don Bauder 7:49 p.m., May 22
The producer's nightmare: push a project to Broadway through a gauntlet of nay-sayers: the playwright, iconic young stars, agents, a tony (small t) British director, and a fund-raiser sheep-dipping for seed money, literally.
Even by his own admission, Felix Artifex has always produced shlock. Just once, he wants to align himself with quality, a "real American play" that will be "groundbreaking, but in a good way."
An even bigger nightmare: Felix has been on the job for six months and still hasn't a clue how to pull things together. In fact, every move he makes pushes them further apart.
The playwright's Stephen Nelson. Never heard of him? Neither had Felix. Nelson wrote an epic drama about the French Revolution. He calls it - like, huh? - Mistakes Were Made.
One Felix keeps making: he persists in calling Robespierre "Pierre." He doesn't give a hoot about historical accuracy. After all, he says, "details are a gateway drug."
And anyway, the idea of the French Revolution "gets me feeling very sentimental every time I think about it."
He wants to cram box-office stars into the script, in roles that don't exist as yet. When the playwright refuses, Felix gets on the phone and woos, cajoles, strokes, and breathes fire at everyone connected with the project, including Middle Eastern insurgents who have captured the trucks full of sheep.
In the last decade or so, 90 minutes has become an almost magical number in the theater. Authors collapse Acts One and Two and beeline to the climax. The tightening is not new. Eugene O'Neill and others experimented with the lesser distance. But must every short play last all 90?
Mistakes would be much more effective at 65 or 70 minutes. It makes points early, then merely adds variations. And even though the language is often quite humorous, the evening's a clock-checker. It do go on, and when Felix's amateurish actions have lethal consequences, the jokes, and a cutsie overfed goldfish bit, wane.
Mistakes is a one-and-a-fourth person show: a solo piece with an off-stage secretary (in this case the talented Jacque Wilke). But what Phil Johnson does argues for a recommendation in spite of the drawbacks. From the time he says "I'm just a producer; I try to do right for other people" to his collapse, Johnson's a verbal dervish.
He - and director Shanna Wride (bring her back!) - keep the stage alive in spite of the static nature of the script. Johnson does one dramatic build after another and somehow manages even greater ones at the end. Throughout he performs with a remarkable spontaneity, as if Felix is actually making up all his frenetic assuaging and often inane mumbo-jumbo on the fly.
Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs Street, Old Town, playing through October 21.