March 29, 2020

Regrets, Revelations in ‘Mistakes Were Made’

Gregg Berger, Paul Linke in “Mistakes Were Made.” Photo by Cydne Moore

We’ve all made mistakes that cost us: opportunities we passed on, deals we didn’t make, trusting the wrong people with our money. But the mistakes that cost the most are the relationships we ruin because of secrets, lies and stupid behavior. Jerry Mayer’s new play, “Mistakes Were Made,” incorporates all of the above while telling a funny, moving, relatable tale liberally laced with showbiz stories and Yiddishkeit.

Subtitled “Coulda-Woulda-Shoulda,” Mayer’s 10th play is set in Canter’s Deli in Hollywood, where three TV writer-producers meet for the first time since the falling out they had there 15 years before. Jeffrey Cohen, Mel Friedman (both Jewish) and Dick Turner convene at Cohen’s request. Their conversations touch on regrets, aging, God, anti-Semitism and the afterlife, as they come clean about the infidelities and lies that came between them and their spouses, parents and children. These play out in flashback vignettes. In the end, they make amends and right wrongs.

Much of what the characters discuss in the play is autobiographical, Mayer told the Journal after the play’s premiere performance at the Santa Monica Playhouse. 

“Everything I wrote is the way I feel about life,” he said. A veteran writer for classic 1970s TV shows including “M*A*S*H,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “All in the Family” and “The Bob Newhart Show,” he wrote and produced “The
Facts of Life” before turning to playwriting in 1986. He weaves his showbiz experiences into the characters along with his philosophies.

“You have to tell people you love them. Being a nice person pays off. Finding the right person to spend your life with is the best career move you can make,” Mayer said, pointing out he has been married for 66 years. He and his wife, Emily, have three children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Jewish humor and sensibility permeate the play, but Mayer is not religious. “I don’t believe in God, but I’m very proud that I’m a Jew,” he said. “The humanity and the decency of Judaism have always been important to me.”

For Gregg Berger, who plays Cohen, the play represents “an opportunity to revisit events in our past that were transformative or reveal part of who we are. … The most important themes are reconciliation, honesty and forgiveness. There are things that can be resolved if someone is willing to extend the olive branch. And there’s a lot of olive branches extended.”

“You have to tell people you love them. Being a nice person pays off. Finding the right person to spend your life with is the best career move you can make.” — Jerry Mayer

A voice-over actor, Berger is known for his vocals in the “Transformers” and “Garfield” animated franchises, Nickelodeon and Hanna-Barbera cartoons, and many video games. The grandson of Russian Jews, he grew up in an observant family. “I have a strong identity,” Berger said. While making “Police Academy: Mission to Moscow” in Russia, he had the opportunity to visit the shtetl where his family was from.

He recently discovered a surprising connection to fellow St. Louis native Mayer. The playwright’s father’s company built the Berger home on Mona Street, which was named after Mayer’s mother. “It’s serendipitous, lovely and beshert,” Berger said. 

Relishing his current role, “I consider this work to be fun, funny and poignant … all within a very short time span,” Berger said. “There’s no wrong response to this play. Some people internalize it, some watch it for the funny of it, and it works either way.”

Mistakes Were Made” runs Saturdays and Sundays through June 30 at the Santa Monica Playhouse.