Neil LaBute’s world premiere play, “The Break of Noon ,” starts with an incredible monologue about something all-too familiar and horrific at the same time. The man, John Smith, is relating his life-altering, near-death experience as the sole survivor of an office massacre by a disgruntled, fired employee. We learn that thirty-seven of his co-workers were killed, and he was spared because “the voice of God” told him to stay where he was, and he “would be safe.”
As Smith’s character progresses through the rest of the play, we meet his lawyer, a cop, his ex-wife, his mistress, and a victim’s daughter. All of these play a role in letting us in on, not only the new spiritually-fueled life he plans to lead, but what a bastard he was in his old life! That’s no surprise in a Neil LaBute play, because all his men are bastards.
The first Neil LaBute piece I ever saw was the film, “In the Company of Men” and these guys were misogynistic fiends. They were mean and nasty, and totally unforgivable in their behavior, but devastatingly complex and fascinating.
LaBute’s characters in “The Break of Noon” don’t have the same complexity. The first person the mass murder survivor goes to, following the slaughter, is a lawyer. It seems he snapped a photo of the carnage, and didn’t report it to the police. Now he wants to know “how much money” this snap is worth to the tabloids or magazines. The lawyer assures him it will make him a wealthy man – and a famous one. From then on, the play moves back and forth between Smith being a prophet preaching the word of god, or falling back on his dastardly, bastardly ways.
The subject of this new play is topical and intriguing, but never seems to delve deeply enough into the characters themselves. We first are asked to believe that the man truly believes he is meant to spread the word of God, but we soon learn – as he takes his wife to the first place they picnicked – that she is his ex-wife, not a current one, and she doesn’t believe that he has changed – not one iota. He’s the same self-serving jerk he always was to her and their kids.
The set is simplistic, save for a perimeter of lights around the stage that blare brightly between scenes. Perhaps signifying the “light” that God shone when saving him.
I was struck more by the worldliness than the
other-worldliness of the play. Some of the scenes seemed to go on too long; the audience gets the point way before they wind down. The best part of the play is the excellent performances. Kevin Anderson as John Smith is powerful and riveting. There is double casting with
John Earl Jelks as the lawyer and detective;
Catherine Dent as the ex-wife and her cousin who cheats with her husband; and
Tracee Chimo is the talk show host and a hooker who is the daughter of one of the deceased women from the office.
The characters talk to each other, but never really let us in. We don’t learn a heck of a lot about any of them, just surface bickering that doesn’t go deep into emotion or pain. Yet, it all remains hauntingly uncomfortable, which seems precisely what the playwright wants. The victim’s daughter comes the closest to revealing some inner life, but her opening gambit of a French Maid Prostitute doesn’t quite ring true.
Neil LaBute is a seasoned and skillful writer, as well as a prolific one. It’s always interesting to see what topic he’s going to explore; and how it will be mined. The Break of Noon is intriguing for sure, with the most interesting parts being the opening and towards the end where we learn that our survivor and the other guys in the office tormented the killer before he was fired: Little things like sending him porno, and putting feces in his drawer. It gives a possible insight into what triggers these tragic incidents, and almost makes you feel like it might have been strangely deserved. In these times rife with bullying and anti-bullying sentiment, it seems like it’s not only kids who are on the end of that.
The Geffen Playhouse in Westwood Village is always a great venue. On the Westside of Los Angeles, it’s rarely congested, easy to get to, easy to park and simply a wonderful place for enjoying an evening of theater.
Their upcoming shows and events of the season are on much happier subjects, including a special 4-night Sergio Mendes Celebration, March 10 - March 13, 2011; In Mother Words, starring Amy Pietz, Jane Kaczmarek, James Lecesne, and Saidah Arrika Ekulona, February 15 - May 1, 2011; and Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett taking the stage at a Backstage at the Geffen fundraiser on May 2!
“The Break of
Written by Neil LaBute
Directed by Jo Bonney
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m.
Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays.
Ends March 6. $47-$77.
10886 Le Conte Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90024