Director Carolyn Howarth believes a certain amount of trepidation can be healthy when taking on a new project. After she first read the script for Craig Wright's "Mistakes Were Made," she thought "Yikes, whatta ya do with that?"
It turns out she's making a play with "that," and with longtime theater friend Eric Wheeler, who plays lead character Felix Artifex in the new Capital Stage production, which opens Saturday.
"I've directed enough variety of things that I'm both always intimidated and not at all intimidated," Howarth said during a rehearsal break at Capital Stage's J Street theater.
"No particular genre scares me, but I will say that every individual play scares me, and this one was certainly no exception."
"Mistakes Were Made" is often a one-man show, with Wheeler spending most of the play engaged in one-sided phone conversations, as off-Broadway producer Felix tries pulling together the biggest deal of his life.
Getting a full picture from the phone conversations posed a challenge, as did the copious amounts of dialogue Wheeler had to learn.
Wright is a successful writer whose works for the stage include "Recent Tragic Events," "Grace," "The Pavilion" and "Orange Flower Water." He's also had a successful television career, writing and producing for the acclaimed series "Six Feet Under" and writing for "Lost" and "Brothers & Sisters." One of the episodes he co-wrote for "Brothers & Sisters," with playwright Jon Robin Baitz, also is called "Mistakes Were Made."
Given Howarth's theater credits and record of achievement, it's hard to imagine any play scares her, but her experience gives her a hearty respect for the creative process and its unpredictable outcomes.
Howarth was a longtime artistic associate with Nevada City's highly regarded Foothill Theater Company, which closed in 2009, and was its last artistic director. She still lives in Grass Valley, but now works around the country, acting occasionally (Sacramento Theatre Company's "To Kill a Mockingbird") and directing whenever possible.
Last year at this time, she was in Anchorage, Alaska, directing Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest." This past summer, she directed "Treasure Island" at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, where her old FTC friend Philip Charles Sneed is artistic director.
" 'Treasure Island' was huge and I had this same feeling 'I don't know where to start with this' but that also kind of tells me, 'Oh you need to do this. You should try.' "
Howarth's journey with "Mistakes Were Made" started with a phone call from Cap Stage artistic director Stephanie Gularte asking if she were available.
"I jumped at the chance because I've been wanting to work with Cap Stage for a long time," Howarth said.
"I really love what they're doing here, the aesthetic. I love the vibe the people have, and I really admire the work."
She also would reunite with Wheeler, who had done several shows with FTC and even spent a summer Shakespeare season at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival when the company still produced the plays there.
"Eric's work ethic is out of control, he's amazing, and he came to this so prepared. He hadn't been cast very long before we started rehearsal, but the amount of material he's had to cram into his head is crazy. He has so many words," Howarth said.
The play takes place during one afternoon in Felix's office. We sometimes hear his secretary, and she pops her head in a few times, but mostly it's just Felix working the phone.
"He's just having one phone conversation after another," Howarth said. "We don't get two sides of the dialogue. We have to get the entire dialogue just from what Eric is saying and how he's reacting."
"It's been a challenge because we discovered we actually had to write what the other people were saying so we'd have something specific to react to," Howarth said. "In some ways, you kind of have to rehearse it as a dialogue with two people but one of the people isn't in the room, and the dialogue hasn't been provided for you."
"It's a load," Wheeler agreed. "He's pretty much always trying to cut the deal, always trying to make something happen. He's got a lot of balls in the air that he's constantly juggling to make this work from his little 4-by-6 desk."
Wheeler said his shared theater experience with Howarth has made the intricate rehearsal process flow smoothly. "I think we're both cut from the same cloth," Wheeler said.
"We love big and funny, and we love dark and moving. We've been amazingly on the same page for this project really every day," Wheeler said.
"There hasn't been a single note I've gotten from Carolyn that I haven't fully agreed with, so it's been pretty easy."
MISTAKES WERE MADE
What: Capital Stage presents the Sacramento premiere of Craig Wright's comedy
Where: 2215 J St., Sacramento
When: 8 p.m. preview today. Opens at 8 p.m. Saturday.
Continues: 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 16. Special matinee at 2 p.m Nov. 24. No performance on Thanksgiving Day.
Tickets: $22-$32; preview $18; $38 opening night
Information: (916) 995-5464, www.capstage.org