The Break of Noon
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
November 26, 2010
Neil LaBute's plays are best defined by their themes. There are the three about beauty, there's the one about race, there's the 9/11 one, and so on. All of them have a healthy dose of four letter words, misogyny, and arch dialogue. His early plays actually have things to say about their subjects, like The Shape of Things (beauty) and The Mercy Seat (9/11). But in his more recent work, he's become that guy who writes outlines with shocking characters and even more shocking twists at the end.
LaBute's newest play, The Break of Noon, confronts a subject he has never tackled before: religion. This confounding outline-without-a-twist—or anything interesting for that matter—is especially disappointing considering his last play in New York, reasons to be pretty, was so strong and effectively pulled him out of his rut of writing ideas that masqueraded as drama and twist endings.
In The Mercy Seat, the main character, who worked in the World Trade Center, was with his mistress when the buildings collapsed. In The Break of Noon, our hero, named John Smith (think he's an everyman?), was the sole survivor of a horrific workplace shooting, during which God spoke to him and prompted him to change his wicked ways.
John also took a photograph of the gunman and a victim, which made him a lot of money. Over the course of the play, he uses this as the basis to try and "save" the daughter of one of his dead co-workers, as well as to try and win back his ex-wife (the episodic structure is similar to that of Some Girl(s)). He also tries to convince everyone that, despite his being a jerk before, he isn't one now. Right.
What we're patiently waiting for is something throughout the play, but something never comes. There's no game-changing twist like those in Wrecks and Some Girl(s), yet it would have been welcomed, if only so we wouldn't have left as bewildered as we did. There is, however, a clever stage trick at the very end that most audience members seemed to be more infatuated with than by the play itself.
Director Jo Bonney, a frequent collaborator, guides the four-person cast led by David Duchovny to milk things out of the script that aren't actually there. Duchovny is an ideal leading man for a LaBute play, but his flat, monotonous delivery of every line leads one to believe he's bored, when he's obviously not. He's quite layered in two hulking monologues that bookend the script.
Amanda Peet, who also starred in This is How it Goes, is too strong to be as wasted as she is, playing the frumpy ex-wife, and the trashy, skin-tight-jeans-and-hooker heels-wearing ex-paramour (costumes are designed by ESosa). John Earl Jelks is also wasted as John's lawyer and a police detective. Tracee Chimo makes the biggest impact as a talk show host and the victim's daughter, a prostitute. As per usual, she's just dazzling.
After reasons to be pretty, it seemed LaBute had pulled himself out of that middle period, but with this, he's plopped himself right back there. Oh well. There's always Dane Cook in Fat Pig to look forward to.