The Break of Noon
David Duchovny stars in Neil LaBute's intriguing new play about the sole survivor of a violent office shooting.
Played here by X-Files and Californication star David Duchovny, the generically named John Smith was not a particularly good man before the shooting, and it's unclear just how much he's changed afterwards. There's a distinct possibility that he's merely exploiting his newfound fame, especially as he's gained a great deal of wealth as a result of selling a photo he took of the shooter during the attack. Certainly, John's ex-wife Ginger (Amanda Peet) doesn't believe his conversion, and talk show host Jenny (Tracee Chimo) rather blatantly makes fun of him.
John's supposed message from God that he is meant to spread a "gospel of goodness" is met with skepticism, and new information that John reveals late in the play seems like a calculated move to shore up his reputation as being chosen by God. If what he says is actually true, it makes little sense that he has not previously disclosed it. And if the play has any major weaknesses, it's that it ends without dealing with the fallout from this sure-to-be-controversial revelation.
Duchovny turns in a layered performance that effectively renders John's motives ambiguous. He candidly displays John's quick temper and moral weaknesses, and yet he also shows us how hard John is trying to change. As the character angrily exclaims during the talk show sequence, "it's much easier to do the wrong thing or make bad choices [...] being good is hard." A later encounter with Gigi (Chimo), the daughter of one of the shooting victims, is even more difficult to interpret, as John evidences a disturbing combination of manipulation and sincerity.
Peet not only portrays John's ex-wife, but also his ex-mistress, Jesse. However, the actress succeeds in making the characters distinctly different from one another. Chimo slightly overplays Jenny's aggressively plastic demeanor, but she's pitch-perfect as Gigi, and her final appearance in the play is the production's most powerful. The always-on-target John Earl Jelks rounds out the cast in the dual roles of John's lawyer and a police detective who finds some of the details in John's story rather suspicious.
Ultimately, LaBute doesn't provide us with easy answers. He refrains from exposing John as a charlatan, but he also never definitively proves that he's telling the truth. Even the production's mystical conclusion could be a staged gimmick on John's part as he embraces the role of evangelist. Like the characters in the play, the audience has to make up its own mind on whether or not to believe.