In Break of Noon, Neil LaBute departs from his typical preoccupation with gender warfare and builds a story around the sole survivor of a mass murder, who claims to have heard from God. Repetitive and too long by half, the play gets help from the collaboration of director Frederique Michel and production designer Charles A. Duncombe and their smart and striking staging, and from the talents of an astute and talented ensemble, with George Villas rendering a terrific performance in the lead role.
Packing a wallop at its outset, the play opens with a lengthy monologue in which John describes the terrifying event. A low-level exec at an unnamed corporation, he’s in the restroom when the shooting begins. Emerging to chaos and carnage, he flees for his life until cornered by the madman. It’s at that moment he hears God’s voice telling him not to move. John obeys, survives, and, as far as he is concerned, is totally transformed.
No one believes him, however. John isn’t a Bible belter; he’s a LaBute kind of guy — urban and East Coast, with a serpentine body language that belies the notion of someone with a pipeline to the Divine.
Whomever he talks to — lawyer, ex-wife, mistress, cop — reacts skeptically when he swears that he’s a changed man. That’s because John, prior to the bloodbath, had been an all-around jerk, and rightly or wrongly, those who encounter him detect something oily about him still.
Unfortunately, LaBute’s script replays this same fundamental dynamic again and again. However involving a scene may be when it begins, one’s interest eventually flags. It’s all very familiar and besides, there’s just too much excess verbiage to digest.
None of this is the fault of the performers, who deliver many incisive moments, especially Kristina Drager as the liberated ex-spouse who wants nothing more to do with John and Kat Johnson as his mercenary attorney. Courtney Clonch is also spot on as the smirking TV host who ridicules John on air; too bad the scene goes on as long as it does.
In the end, the production turns on Villas’ performance. Wild-eyed and weirded out, his storytelling mesmerizes. You’re right there with him as he discovers the body of a young assistant by the copy machine, her throat slit, and later, on the edge of your seat as the killer ominously approaches, gun in hand, with John having nowhere to run.
Adding a preternatural quality to the narrative are multiple spooky, camera-recorded images (video design by Anthony M. Sannazaro), in sepulchral hues, of John as he speaks. Counterbalancing that are Josephine Poinsot’s sharp costuming, especially the women’s snazzy shoes.
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City Garage, Bergamot Station Arts Center, 2525 Michigan Ave., Building T1, Santa Monica; through May 10. (310) 453-9939, citygarage.org.
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