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Mistakes Were Made (#110 of 2)

Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s La Voix Humaine

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Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s <em>La Voix Humaine</em>
Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s <em>La Voix Humaine</em>

’Tis the season for surreal culture shock. First it was the fried balls. Forget popcorn and potato chips; from bitterballen to oliebollen, unless it’s round and fried, it ain’t a snack here in Holland. Then it was Sinterklaas—or, more precisely, his helper Zwarte Piet (best explained by David Sedaris in an essay for Esquire a few years back). Suffice to say, the sight of towheaded tots trotting down the street in blackface can make even a seen-it-all New Yorker like me gawk. And now: Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s production of Jean Cocteau’s La Voix Humaine, a French play performed in Dutch with English surtitles projected perfectly center-stage above the action. (Interestingly, five days before I attended the show at the spectacular, castle-like Stadsschouwburg, Spike Lee held a discussion/book promotion at the theater. Alas, I heard he didn’t have much to say about Zwarte Piet.)

But I have quite a bit to say about La Voix Humaine, a one-woman show starring the luminous Halina Reijn (who also stars in the company’s Children of the Sun as the invalid Lisa) as an alternately determined and desperate mistress who is trying to break up once and for all with her lover over the phone. While Michael Shannon and his headset may have New York audiences in stitches in Mistakes Were Made, Ms. Reijn and her regular old receiver (or “terrible weapon” as she refers to it at one point) drag Amsterdam theatergoers through a nonstop, emotional tight-wire act for nearly an hour.

Men Behaving Badly: Mistakes Were Made, Ghosts in the Cottonwoods, and Devil Boys from Beyond

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Men Behaving Badly: <em>Mistakes Were Made</em>, <em>Ghosts in the Cottonwoods</em>, and <em>Devil Boys from Beyond</em>
Men Behaving Badly: <em>Mistakes Were Made</em>, <em>Ghosts in the Cottonwoods</em>, and <em>Devil Boys from Beyond</em>

Those who just can’t get enough of ace actor Michael Shannon can now get nothing but him, flying solo for about 93 of the 95 minutes of Craig Wright’s new play Mistakes Were Made. Even better, you get to have both versions of the magnificently tuned-in thesp: the quiet, contemplative, soulful guy and the bug-eyed, frenetic, intense one that has secured his status as cinema’s top dog for disturbed male behavior. Diving way deep into the recesses of his character Felix Artifex, a harried producer juggling a project involving a big-name Hollywood star, a failed relationship, and some unusual dealings with overseas politicos, Shannon band-aids the man’s flaws in Wright’s text, which never seems to know if it wants to satirize Felix or deify him, the whole affair often seeming like a one-act, expanded version of Roy Cohn’s phone barking in his first scene in Angels in America. Also, would any Hollywood star ever want to do a stage play about the French Revolution? Isn’t Wright keeping any tabs on current Broadway? But Shannon is as thrilling as they come, masterfully modulating the tone of the piece to suit his unending skill. Mistakes may have been made in this play’s execution, but its star can never be guilty of such a thing.