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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>

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.

Playwright Adam Rapp, while exciting and much-needed in our community, has execution flaws too, but those who find his work typically too overlong might seek solace in the fact that Ghosts in the Cottonwoods—his first ever writing effort now brought to life by downtown darlings the Amoralists—is merely 95 minutes, most of them fairly lean. But it might have been a more illuminating experience many years ago, before many of us got too used to his obsessions, nearly all of them to be found in this unsettling backwoods gothic drama. Unusually intimate mothers and sons, visceral rape, gonzo male nudity, vomiting, and strangely woven pop-culture oddities all co-mingle and play out in ways we’ve come to expect from Rapp, which gives the work a slightly more rote quality and lacks the delicacy we’d end up seeing in later works like Red Light Winter and this year’s The Metal Children. But his collaboration with the Amoralists proves to be a fruitful one overall; released of their screaming shtick in favor of Rapp’s spring-trap buildups in narrative, the cast more clearly reveals what accomplished actors some of them are, notably the gritty, vivid Sarah Lemp, who has always shined in the Amoralists’s other work, and now gets to take a much-deserved spotlight.

Devil Boys from Beyond enjoyed a notable spotlight in last year’s New York International Fringe Festival as the go-to play for good, cheap laughs. Pity then, that many of those said laughs seemed to fall into a void on its way to Off Broadway. Buddy Thomas and Kenneth Elliott’s gleeful drag takeoff on ’50s sci-fi B movies and winking drag theater has the very unfortunate luck of playing within the same season as Charles Busch’s sterling return to form with The Divine Sister, and Devil Boys from Beyond just doesn’t compare. Despite a game, spirited turn by Ridiculous Theatrical Company vet Everett Quinton (who sadly gets less face time than the much-blander leads), the result is leaden and not nearly as taut as a piece like this should be; the cast seems to stretch lines out until they break in order to generate laughs it’s not always getting. The sight gags are most effective (a surprise appearance by a well-placed wind puppet is good for a belly laugh), and the production is obviously crafted with some affection for its subject, but when you have to trot an eye-rolling discourse on how outer-planetary same-sex unions are superior to our planet’s experience with same (but only if you’re a six-pack visible muscle boy though…hmmm, so much for harmonious inclusion), you’ll be mentally hunting down Charles Busch in a wimple with the quickness.

Mistakes Were Made is now playing at the Barrow Street Theatre (27 Barrow Street) in New York City and continues until February 27. Schedule: Tue -Sat at 7:30pm, Sat and Sun at 2:30pm. Running time: 1 hour and 35 minutes, no intermission. Ghosts in the Cottonwoods is now playing at Theatre 80 (80 St. Mark’s Place) in New York City through December 6. Schedule: Mon, Thu-Sat at Sun at 3pm. Running time: 1 hour and 35 minutes, no intermission. Devil Boys From Beyond is now playing at New World Stages (340 W. 50th Street) in New York City through December 30. Schedule: Wed-Sat at 8pm. Running time: 1 hour and 30 minutes, no intermission.