BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
Michael Shannon delivered a memorable performance as a seedy guy who goes berserk in Tracy Letts' psycho-thriller "Bug" several seasons ago. Now he returns to the Barrow Street Theatre as a differently seedy soul in Craig Wright's new comedy "Mistakes Were Made," which opened there on Sunday.
Shannon portrays one Felix Artifex, a third-rate theatrical producer whose dubious latest project is a French Revolution drama titled "Mistakes Were Made." Wright situates Felix in his ratty, script-bestrewn office on a bad day when all of the producer's plans are chopped like so many nobles upon the scaffold.
Virtually a one-man show (Mierka Girten is frequently heard but only briefly seen as a long-suffering secretary stationed in an outer office), the play observes Felix as he variously wheels, deals and sweet-talks people on the phone. A big-name star demanding insane rewrites, a playwright resisting changes and several long-distance callers involved in a shady overseas scheme regarding sheep are among the most insistent personalities Felix attempts to appease verbally — at times simultaneously.Beginning in a mellow mode, an increasingly desperate Shannon superbly navigates his character's ever-wilder roller-coaster ride through the tidal swamps of show biz that eventually reduces Felix to a convulsive heap. Wheedling, screaming, raging, begging and, above all, lying without shame, devious Felix is quite a shyster whom Shannon vigorously depicts with impressive character detail and intensity.
Director Dexter Bullard, who also staged "Bug," does well by the play's many rising and ebbing waves of emotion. The trouble here is that in spite of Shannon's bravura performance, Wright's writing does not seem especially funny — at least not to me.
Be warned that an earlier solo show that did nothing for me was Becky Mode's "Fully Committed" comedy about a guy taking reservations at an exclusive restaurant; that little event chalked up 675 off-Broadway performances and dozens of regional productions. So for all I know, "Mistakes Were Made" might be genius. Kindly consult some of my colleagues' observations before making any decisions.
"Mistakes Were Made" continues through Feb. 25 at the Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow St., New York. Call (212) 868-4444 or visit www.smarttix.com.