'The Break of Noon'

A series of uninvolving two-hander confrontations is inconsistently helmed by Jo Bonney.

Religious faith – its practice and practitioners – deserves a presence on our stages in keeping with its influence on American life, but Neil LaBute’s inquiry in “The Break of Noon” at the Geffen Playhouse (in co-production with Gotham’s MCC Theater) doesn’t add much to the discussion. As the sole survivor of an office massacre who ascribes his luck to divine intervention, Kevin Anderson hits an opening monologue out of the park. Thereafter, interest dribbles away in a series of uninvolving two-hander confrontations, inconsistently helmed by Jo Bonney.

Some of LaBute’s best work dramatizes modern man behaving close to his caveman roots; John Smith (Anderson) isn’t all that bad at the core, just sort of schlubby. But LaBute has created compelling schlubs before, most prominently in his masterpiece “The Shape of Things.” So excitement is high as John describes, ostensibly for the authorities, the fateful noon hour when one Juan Diaz appeared to blow away 37 co-workers.

Impeccably delivered in high Chicago-realism style by Steppenwolf vet Anderson, the speech blends horrific and meaningless details with a couple of spots set aside for a breakdown, ending with the miracle of God’s voice directing his rescue.

We’re primed for the working out of some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder, but LaBute and Bonney have a different agenda in mind as Anderson lounges – there really is no better verb for it – through six conversations on the ramifications of John’s newfound allegiance to the Lord.

Three thesps each perform two such vignettes, though the doubling’s rationale puzzles, and their styles vary widely: Tracee Chimo takes a talk-show hostess and call girl beyond caricature, while Catherine Dent as John’s ex-wife and former mistress opts for a blandish sort of naturalism.

John Earl Jelks’ scenes as a razor-sharp attorney and probing detective are the most enjoyable with the best lines, but neither raises Anderson’s game in terms of emotional involvement. The smash cuts Bonney contrives with lighting designer David Weiner to separate the scenes clearly indicate a lack of interest in seeing John develop or change, but a provocative final-scene coup loses much of its punch after 90 minutes of mope.

LaBute always seems to be working out something fertile, but this is one of those times when it stays in his head without making its way into the playhouse.

The Break of Noon

Geffen Playhouse, Los Angeles; 522 seats; $77 top

Production

A Geffen Playhouse and MCC Theater presentation of a play in one act by Neil LaBute. Directed by Jo Bonney.

Creative

Sets, Neil Patel; costumes, ESosa; lighting, David Weiner; sound, Darron L West; original music, Justin Ellington; special effects, Matthew Holtzclaw; fight choreographer, Bo Foxforth; production stage manager, Christina Lowe. Opened, reviewed Feb. 2, 2011; runs through Mar. 6. Running time: 1 HOUR, 35 MIN.

Cast

John Smith Kevin Anderson Jenny/Gigi Tracee Chimo Ginger/Jesse Catherine Dent Lawyer/Detective John Earl Jenks
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