THEATRE REVIEW - The Break of Noon

Opening on the heels of the recent massacre in Tucson, Arizona, Neil LaBute’s “The Break of Noon” is especially timely as it shines a light on one man’s coping mechanism in the aftermath of the mass murder in his office resulting in the loss of 37 lives.

 

LaBute’s knack for story telling once again is found in this powerful script, which unfolds much like a surgeon cutting through layers of epidermis to reach the infected area. The playwright explores the question of can a man, who has lived a less than an admirable life, be transformed as a result of a traumatic experience, and make a positive contribution to society. The other question LeBute poses, most subtly, is the flip side and that is, has the protagonist, Mr. Smith, really been transformed or is he a rank opportunist who wants to achieve fame, which could include appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show and The View.

 

Kevin Anderson as John Smith retells the horrors of the office massacre.

 

Under very skilled direction by Jo Bonney, the play begins with the sole survivor of the massacre, John Smith, played with multi-emotional dimensions to his character by Kevin Anderson, sitting on a stool reliving the gruesome event that he describes as horrible and surreal. As Smith reveals more of the details, he struggles with the images of dead people strewn about the work place and we feel great sympathy for his ordeal. He insists the reason he is the sole survivor is that God spoke to him and instructed him to stay still and he would be saved. Smith reveals that as a result of this celestial intervention, he would try to live a better life, spread the Gospel, and plans to begin a personal journey to make amends to those people whom he abused.

 

Kevin Anderson as John Smith visits with a sleazy attorney played by John Earl Jelks.

 

Smith’s revelations, to say the least, are met with mixed reactions - from belief to suspicions of profiteering from a tragedy that includes the potential sale of photos of the death scene. Towards that end, he visits a cynical attorney, nicely played by John Earl Jelks, who advises Smith of the potential profit from his photos.

 

John Smith being interrogated by a suspicious detective also played by John Earl Jelks.

 

Later in the play, Jelks also plays a detective who’s not buying the God visitation story and is suspicious of why Smith is the sole survivor, especially since the shooter, Juan Diaz, was actually fired by Smith. He asserts that Diaz put the gun in his mouth but it misfired, not once, but twice, saving Smith’s life. Slowy, LeBute reveals humiliating events that led up to Diaz’s flipping out, including a disgusting incident when human feces are put on Diaz’s desk and while not justifying his action, puts a face on the abuse leading up to his deadly revenge.

 

Smith tries to entice his suspicious ex-wife, played by Catherine Dent, to come back to him.

 

Smith’s “mea culpa” begins with his ex-wife Ginger, wonderfully played by Catherine Dent, who is not buying any of Smith’s transformation. She is suspicious of his attempt to apologize for past transgressions that he says are being offered at the behest of God, but in short order, we see the “real” Smith, who has a short fuse and explosive temper.

 

John Smith tries to apologize to his former girlfriend Jesse, also played by Catherine Dent.

 

Dent also plays Jesse, an ex-girlfriend with whom he was having an affair while he was married. Despite his ill treatment of her, she still loves him but, once again, we glimpse inside a less than honorable Smith. Dent’s masterful characterizations are so distinctly different and fully actualized, that it’s hard to recognize that the same actress is playing both roles.

 

Tracee Chimo as Jenny, the television host who tries to humiliate Smith.

 

Smith’s television appearance on a talk show hosted by Jenny, played by Tracee Chimo, is probably the weakest link in the production as Chimo, in an attempt to telegraph her character’s disbelief of Smith’s story, shamefully mugs to the audience and gave a way over-the-top, strident performance, out of sync with the rest of the performers. It’s unclear as to whether this is an actor’s choice or directorial instruction, but it did not serve the play well.

 

Tracee Chino as the hooker Gigi tries seducing Smith.

 

Chimo is more effective as a French prostitute to whom Smith pays a visit to once again do a mea culpa. She uses her body in a playful way and does have an authentic emotional moment when Smith encourages her to pray.

 

Technically, the production is well served by the Lighting Design by David Weiner and Sound Design by Darron L. West, both of which nicely escort the scene changes.

 

The question of Smith’s authenticity is the thread throughout this 90-minute play with a surprising raison d’etre in a classic LeBute fashion. “The Break of Noon” should definitely be added to your play list.

 

The Geffen Playhouse

10886 Le Conte

Los Angeles, Ca 90024

 

Run: Tuesday-Sunday

Thru March 6, 2011

Tickets: 310-208-5454 or

www.geffenplayhouse.com

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