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The Break of Noon (2010)

David Duchovny | THE BREAK OF NOON David Duchovny as John Smith
Image credit: Joan Marcus
THE BREAK OF NOON David Duchovny as John Smith
EW's GRADE
C

Details Opening Date: Nov 22, 2010; Lead Performance: David Duchovny; Writer: Neil LaBute; Director: Jo Bonney; Genre: Drama

If anyone should be able to sell us a story about a man who heard the voice of God in the midst of a midday workplace massacre, it should be David Duchovny. For nine seasons on The X-Files, the sloe-eyed actor made legions of TV viewers believe in aliens, paranormal activity, and other unseen phenomena. We want to believe! But there's no buying The Break of Noon, provocative playwright Neil LaBute's first full-on religious experience. (The show is playing Off Broadway through Dec. 22 before a run at L.A.'s Geffen Playhouse starting in January.)

Duchovny plays John Smith, the sole survivor of what an over-coiffed talk-show host (the multitalented Tracee Chimo) too-cheerily calls ''the darkest day in the history of domestic violence, as related to an office setting.'' According to Smith, God sent down a bolt of blinding light and spoke to him directly. That's actually not so far-fetched. (Except for the name. John Smith — one of the few LaBute characters who actually gets a last name, and that's what he gets?) What's truly wacky is that LaBute doesn't have anything else up his sleeve. The man who's mastered the knife-turning, ninth-hour twist — which usually involves one character plunging said knife into the back of another (see: reasons to be pretty, The Mercy Seat) — gives us nothing shocking in the last few minutes. Except, perhaps, an extraordinary amount of character development and details that could actually have plugged a few holes in his sieve-like plot. John makes a few vague references to how he did ''all kinds of crap'' to people he loved ''all the time, over and over — and got away with it.'' But there's no evidence of that in the show — other than the fact that he manages to tick off both his level-headed ex-wife and his fiery mistress. (In LaBute's clever manifestation of the madonna/whore complex, both women are brilliantly played by Amanda Peet, his go-to leading lady of late. She's quickly becoming what William H. Macy is to a David Mamet production.)

There's nothing surprising about John telling us about the ''crap'' he did to people. It's a LaBute play; one expects a certain amount of callousness and casual cruelty from the male characters. As John's lawyer (the slick John Earl Jelks) says, right before telling him he could earn $1 million from People or The New York Times for a cellphone pic of the gunman and some blown-apart bodies (riiiiight): '''Religion' is a cash-cow, yes, but it's also a minefield.'' LaBute has built dramas around murderous Mormons, male and female body-image issues, and a guy who survived 9/11 because he skipped work to cheat on his wife. But in The Break of Noon, he's improbably just tiptoeing through the minefield. C

(Tickets: TicketCentral.com or 212-279-4200)

Originally posted Nov 22, 2010