The Break of Noon
By Neil LaBute
Directed by Jo Bonney
With Kevin Anderson, Catherine Dent, Tracee Chimo, and John Earl Jelks
Geffen Playhouse, Los Angeles
Through March 6, 2011
Oy. Where to start? There is this play at the Geffen Playhouse, “The Break of Noon.”It is by a recognized and prolific writer, known for his wit, named Neil LaBute. That is promising.There is this guy, John Smith (Kevin Anderson), who is the sole survivor of a workplace massacre. That has the ring of a good set-up, no? Smith is sure he saw God at the scene of the slaughter and was directed and saved by Him for a higher purpose (presumably God is a him as Smith does not seem the type to think of God as a her). That, my friend, is where things start getting a little shaky.
The best part is the opening soliloquy, in which Smith recounts the senseless carnage that had surrounded him in his office. The fact that, as I write this, it is just weeks after Gabrielle Giffords was gravely wounded in a rampage shooting that injured 18 others and killed six brings more immediacy to the story. For several minutes it is possible to put one’s self in the shoes of this everyman, John Smith, as he tries to make sense of what has happened around him.So far, so good. The hook works. But then …. then, sadly, all goes downhill for the remainder of the 90 minutes. It is a long 90 minutes.
It turns out that John Smith is an unlikely candidate for such a miracle. Through vignettes, including a television interview, and short cameos with his lawyer (John Earl Jelks), his ex-wife (Catherine Dent), his former mistress, a prostitute (Tracee Chimo), and the detective investigating the case, doubts about Smith surely must creep up in the minds of even the most devout audience member. This mister-nice-guy is really a shallow, narcissistic opportunist. OK, that was who he was before the shoot-up; but is it not possible for such an event to be life-altering? Sure, but an entire personality remodel or transplant? I do not think so. His narcissism is underscored by his failure to even ponder “Why me?,” the typical expression of survivor guilt you would think he would entertain … maybe just a little. Why should we believe he is tormented by what happens? He does not show it. He expects everyone to accept his declarations and wipe clean his fairly extensive slate of bad behaviors. Like many an evangelist, Smith glibly embraces his transgressions. He expects others to forgive him as he has so easily forgiven himself. Not so fast, fellow.
The evidence of Neil LaBute’s celebrated wit and use of taught language, à la his hero David Mamet, is sadly missing. Both plot and dialogue are sufficiently weak that it seems like actors are faced with the task of Sisyphus, in which case it is unfair to comment further.
If LaBute was trying to work out issues of faith, “Break of Noon” falls short of the mark. It would be a stretch for one to feel Smith’s passion or entertain thoughts of some divine power having actually interceded. If his intent is to mock religion, LaBute only succeeded in mocking one rather uninteresting specimen.
With atheist Christopher Hitchens scheduled to debate three rabbis over the possible existence of heaven at a nearby venue in Los Angeles, it sounded like a fair fight to me, one with much more promise to be entertaining and thought provoking.