ARTS & CULTURE
Review

Redemption is short-lived in Neil LaBute's 'Break of Noon'

Neil LaBute's 'The Break of Noon' at City Garage too often feels like it's running in place

In the aftermath of a mass shooting, the sole survivor narrating Neil LaBute’s “The Break of Noon” at City Garage resolves to mend his selfish ways, attributing his escape to divine intervention.

Don’t expect miracles, though. While characteristically merciless in its skewering of social hypocrisy, this 2010 character study isn’t the sharpest knife in LaBute’s playwriting drawer. For one thing, the badly-behaved American male under the microscope this time out is even more generic than usual, albeit by design.

In an opening monologue recounting the lunchtime massacre of his co-workers by an unhinged ex-employee, an ordinary low-level office manager aptly named John Smith (George Villas) points to his own insignificance as proof of God’s limitless grace in singling him out for survival. Smith says all the right things — even denying his own heroism makes him seem all the more heroic.

Naturally, there’s another shoe to drop — it’s a LaBute play — and Villas’ excellent performance systematically exposes the cracks in Smith’s professed redemption. Bad habits reemerge in his serial encounters with a sleazy lawyer (Kat Johnston), his skeptical ex-wife (Kristina Drager), his tacky mistress (Katrina Nelson), a cynical talk show host (Courtney Clonch), a shooting victim’s daughter (Nicole Gerth) and a suspicious cop (Alex Pike) whose interrogation gives new meaning to “getting in your face” thanks to inventive video projections by Anthony M. Sannazaro.

The ensemble provides impressively detailed characterizations, but these confrontations basically reiterate the same point, that a prevailing ridicule of genuine religious experience makes the “burden of goodness” impossible to carry in the real world.

Director Frédérique Michel and designer Charles A. Duncombe attempt a bit of redemption of their own with a stylish visual deconstruction that amplifies the script’s artifice: During the successive encounters, the “on-deck” character perches motionless off to the side.

Still, it feels like running in place (and an unnecessary intermission doesn’t help), so that the inevitable LaButean shocking reveal brings more relief than horror.

“The Break of Noon,” City Garage, Bergamot Station Building T1, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 10. $25; Sundays pay-what-you-can at the door. (310) 453-9939 or www.citygarage.org. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

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