The truth may be out there, but not even Fox Mulder can make a convincing case for it in Neil LaBute’s weird play, “The Break of Noon.” David Duchovny, that most subtle of actors, is merely shifty as the selfish heel who has a religious conversion when he survives a deadly workplace massacre. In today’s social climate, any play about a reformed sinner who wins fame and fortune as a celebrity preacher sounds like gold on the ground. But scribe only toys with the theme, focusing on his bad boy’s devilish behavior while avoiding the inconvenient matter of his truthiness.
Duchovny, who has been working on his no-good heel persona over four seasons of “Californication” on Showtime, initially wins our sympathy for John Smith. Sitting with a blanket over his bloody business suit, the poor guy looks shell-shocked as he offers his stumbling account of how he came to be the sole survivor of a bloody office massacre that left 37 people dead.
The tricky part of his monologue comes when he explains the conditions of his survival to the police. “God saved me,” he says, recalling the “beautiful deep clear voice” that called him by his name and promised to save him from the disgruntled employee who was in the unholy process of mowing down his office mates with an AK-47.
John’s claim is met with near-universal skepticism and no little contempt, not all of it expressed with conviction in helmer Jo Bonney’s imperfectly cast production. John Earl Jelks (“Radio Golf”) raises a scornful eyebrow as the lawyer John consults before taking his conversion public. This ultra-poised performer also walks away with the scene in which he plays a detective who suspects that John was somehow behind the attack.
Tracee Chimo, who showed her satiric teeth as a vengeful bridesmaid in “Bachelorette,” lets that sharp wit rip in the role of a caustic TV personality who revels in the public’s “morbid fascination” with violent death. “It’s a national sickness,” she says of our “love of catastrophe,” delighted to do her bit to perpetuate it.
But Amanda Peet (“Barefoot in the Park”), curiously wan as John’s betrayed ex-wife, Ginger, is scarcely more animated as Jesse, the emotionally voracious sister-in-law who has her own history with this cad.
In the end, though, the play ticks on Duchovny’s perf as John, and his ability to keep us guessing about the true nature of his miraculous conversion. The skeptics all have their say, but Jesse comes closest to the point when she accuses John of faking his “miracle” in order to win forgiveness for “all the bad shit you’ve done.”
John sticks to his guns; but Duchovny is no preacher and his awkward outbursts of divinely inspired faith (punctuated by some truly annoying lighting effects) feel entirely fake. Anyone with a vivid imagination can convince us they saw a flying saucer. But it takes more passion than Duchovny can muster to make us see God.