Chris Pine in The Atheist
(© Betsey Katz)
Chris Pine in The Atheist
(© Betsey Katz)
The absence of God is a philosophical underpinning of Ronan Noone's new play The Atheist, but what really drives this riveting one-person show is a human being's God-like power to steer events in the world around him. Meet Augustine Early (Chris Pine), a man on a mission to become famous even if it kills him.

Solo shows are generally the domain of famous actors, and/or they are about famous people. Rare is the one-person show in which the writing is the star. Though Noone has had some early success with larger-cast plays, including The Lepers of Baile Baiste and The Blowin of Baile Gall, he's found a personal and singular voice in The Atheist. The play is not without its flaws; but who else, these days, could write a one-person narrative with an intricate plot that is also layered with social, religious, and cultural imperatives, not to mention such a rich and colorful use of language?

Augustine tells us that he "knew from a young age I was going to be famous. More famous than anybody I ever knew. But I didn't come into my own -- understand my talent, that is -- until after I lost my faith in God." Once the Almighty was out of the picture, Augustine believed there were no rules, no boundaries, no consequences except those that were man-made.

As he tells his tale in front of a camera, we soon come to understand that Augustine is giving us the record of his life to date. It's a story that begins with his account of a sly trick that was played on him in his youth by a garbage man. The trick clearly had a great influence, since it's mentioned no less than three times during the course of this intermissionless piece. Conned and humiliated by the garbage man, Augustine sets out to play his own tricks on the world.

He eventually gets his chance. While working as a freelance journalist in New York City, he meets a struggling actress and falls head over heels in love (and lust) with this sexually adventurous young woman. In her home, he stumbles across a secret that will change his life, her life, and the destiny of our great city. As for the rest of the plot, we'll only say that a fictitious Mayor of NYC plays a pivotal role, as does his seemingly saintly wife. Even Howard Stern has a part in the proceedings. Though the show sometimes strains credulity, the language is at one rough, poetic, and beautifully spare. Like the lyrics in a musical, Noone's words move the story forward while painting vivid pictures along the way.

Noone also has the advantage of a charismatic and versatile actor playing Augustine. Pine gives a mesmerizing performance that is organic and deeply felt rather than flashy. There are no quicksilver changes from one character to the next here; Pine is always Augustine, even when the character is speaking as others. He does an exceptional job with the more lurid passages of the script, delivering some shocking material in a no-nonsense way that's all the more effective for being so understated.

David Sullivan directs with restraint, attempting to keep the story on a small canvas so that the themes don't overwhelm the protagonist. He is aided and abetted by Richard Chambers' low-key set design and Jennifer Caprio's realistic costumes. But the star of the show, other than Pine, is Noone, who emerges as a playwright to watch -- and listen to.