Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Mistakes Were Made—Artists Repertory Theatre—SW Portland

Incredible Shrinking Man

This one-man show is directed by Michael Mendelson and Dámaso Rodriguez and stars Michael Mendelson.  It is written by Craig Wright and runs through October 27th.  It plays at their space at SW Alder St. and SW 16th Ave.  For more information, go to www.artistsrep.org or call 503-241-1278.

This play was originally to star another actor but, because of a family emergency, the director stepped in just recently.  And to memorize almost 90 minutes of speech in such a short time would be nothing short of a miracle.  Presto, the miracle-worker, Michael Mendelson appears, with his magic to weave this fascinating story!

The question we must ponder is what makes a person.  Is it their upbringing?  Heritage?  Beliefs?  Career?  Relationships?  Probably some combination of all of these.  But what if a person is so obsessed by one of these that he blocks out all other accesses to his life.  Enter, Felix Artifex, a Broadway Producer.

And some of those he is connected to through his phone, his life-line, are Oscar, a theatre owner; Steven, a fledgling playwright, who has written a play about the French Revolution called, Mistakes Were Made; his ex-wife, Delores; Johnny Bledsoe, a rising and demanding young star; Helen, his agent; Malcom, an English friend and go-between; the Major, a mysterious hatchet man; Alisha, a rising, demanding young starlet; Shem, a revolutionary; and some assorted foreign backers with unpronounceable names.

His only visible ties to reality are his secretary, Esther (Lucy Paschall), mostly, voice only; his goldfish, Denise (Puppeteer, Liz Ghiz—puppet design by Jane Clugston); and a photo of his daughter, now deceased, on his desk.  A wall is also filled with posters from produced shows (well-rendered by Jeff Seats, scenic designer); prescription pills, frequently consumed, on his desk; and a window-view of a clear day, to a stormy one, then to a “starry, starry night.”  His whole world and welcome to it.

It should be noted that these situations are real when producing a play, albeit exaggerated a wee bit for comedic effect.  It could be said that producing a play makes for “strange bedfellows.”  A fractured view of this is discussed by a firm that does sheep-dipping, and another group that seems in opposition to this by means of flame-throwers, if necessary.  And ditsy, devious, demanding divas abound in show biz, as well as naïve, first-time writers.  In other words, it is a mirror reflecting a chaotic stew of miscellaneous activities where, sometimes, art will out.

As the play progresses, Felix seems to dissolve, as he divest his clothes, gets short with his phone colleagues and his secretary, and the sky get grayer.  Only Denise seems to understand and with her vacant stares, gives him solace.  His whole life is tied up in producing plays.  In fact, it is his life.  He is destined for a fall and he knows it.  But what is a finale for obsession.  Madness?  Death?  Re-emergence?  I won’t be a spoiler and tell you the end but will say that it does have something in common with the final words in Richard Matheson’s revealing, Sci-fi book and film, The Incredible Shrinking Man.

The pacing of the scenes is chaotic and rapid-fire, but with lulls that have impact because of their quietness.  The directors, obviously, know their subject from, I’m sure, personal experience.  Their insights, as well as the author’s, are spot on, as I can concur from some of the self-same obsessions.  And why do we get in over our heads when we might drown?  Because, as Felix’s explains, “Can’t tell if it’s doomed until you do it.”  This story does connect to others in the so-called “real” world, because Artists come from that world, too, just have a different way of expressing themselves.  As said, “All the world’s a stage…”  Amen.

The posters by Seats are terrific but I won’t give away the gimmicks, as you have to see them for yourself.  And Ghiz and Clugston create a wonderful addition to the play with Denise.  Again, has to be seen to be appreciated.  But any pet-lover will understand (I speak Dog).  And Paschall has just the right amount of patience but petulance to add believability to the situation.

And, Mendelson, what a talent!  Never mind that we had a conversation during the summer where we discussed needing the whole rehearsal period to learn lines, as we progress into maturity.  Never mind that fact that he had to learn this enormous part in a matter of days.  And, never mind that he has to deliver much of it in staccato-like style, talking most of the time to disembodied voices, often more than one at a time.  This is a true tour-de-force by a master!

His expressions are as revealing as his vocalizations, sometimes in direct contrast to them.  You believe who he is and can identify with him.  And that, when successful, in a nutshell, is pure acting.  And this is one of the best examples of that I can think of.  When you experience his world, you can’t help but be moved, shaken, and amused by it.  “May you live long and prosper,” Mr. Mendelson!

I highly recommend this play.  But, it does have some of those nasty “F” words in it, so be warned.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.