Neil LaBute is not known for subtlety or for playing it safe. His screenplays and plays have always pushed a lot of buttons and have even been criticized for their perceived misogynist portrayal of women. But for what it’s worth, he is a writer that divides critics and audiences, but never bores.
His latest, The Break of Noon, is a bit of a diversion from his previous work. Not as angry and “arrrggh” as he has been in the past, Noon is a fairly breezy 90 minutes that focuses on one man undergoing a spiritual awakening.
John Smith (Kevin Anderson) is the lone survivor of an office shooting where a disgruntled employee killed all of his co-workers. Except one. Somehow, John survived and he attributes that to God speaking to him (literally) and telling him to stay in a certain place so he’d live. Because of this, he feels like he has been chosen to spread God’s message of “being good” to each other, even though previously he was something of a prick. In fact, in his final monologue of the show, we get to hear what a true asshole he really was.
John first visits a Lawyer (John Earl Jelks) to see how he can do God’s work. He offers up a picture he took on a cell phone that shows the shooter in action, not to mention dead bodies littering the floor. By selling the photo he stands to make millions, most of which he says he’ll give to charity. But it is clear he is struggling with what is “right” as opposed to what would be more beneficial to him.
He then goes to see his ex-wife to show her he is a changed man and try to win her back. Unfortunately, he is met with disbelief and hostility and his old actions begin to surface.
When John goes on an Oprah-like talk show, he is once again confronted by a non-believer in the show’s host, Jenny (Tracy Chimo). Or at least, someone who doesn’t totally buy the “God spared me” story and uses this conflict to titillate her audience.
By the play’s end, John has visited a woman he was having an affair with (also played by Dent), a Detective who isn’t buying John’s “sole survivor” story (also played by Jelks), and a hooker who he has a secret connection to (also played by Chimo). In the end, John is indeed a changed man, but at what price? And is this change for the better? Is he doing God’s work, or just making himself out to be more than he is?
The Break of Noon doesn’t break any new ground. In fact, every scene seems like something we’ve seen before whether on the big screen or on some procedural drama on television. The tone of the show is all over the place with Chimo and Jelks performances so affected they seem like they should be in a Saturday Night Live skit. The most effective is Catherine Dent when she plays a Brooklyn-esque white trash woman John had been seeing on the side. She seemed the most real, while the others seemed more one-note. Even John doesn’t seem to have that much depth. The whole play is on the surface and while its subject makes for a fairly interesting evening, it’s nothing you are going to hold onto once you leave.
That said, what I found interesting about the piece was that after John comes out of the tragedy and tries to spread God’s word, he is met with a lot of resistance. He wasn’t pushing his new beliefs on anyone, he was just excitedly telling people what had happened and what message he thought he had to send. And it wasn’t anything dramatic like “everyone must get to church and worship like crazy,” it was simply, “we need to be good to each other.” But because his experience was so peculiar and out of the ordinary, no one can seem to buy it. In fact, the talk-show host says it best when she states, “we want to believe, we just don’t want to believe you.”
Which is funny, isn’t it? Because people will put all of their faith in a book written thousands of years ago and buy it hook, line, and sinker, but someone tells you they’ve experienced a miracle and they’re all, “yeah, right.” Everyone wants proof, but I ask you, where is the proof that the Bible is valid? Where is the actual proof God exists and that Jesus came down to save us from our sin? Where is the proof that everything written in the Bible is ACTUALLY God’s word?
We don’t have it. But billions and billions of people swear by it.
But if I tell you that I am an Empath and feel and sense things that most people don’t, I’ll get looked at like I’m a whackjob. It’s true. For years I’ve understood that there is something about me that is different from other people. (Sexual orientation aside.) I actually “feel” more than most people, much to my detriment. People’s emotional pain travels into me making me feel their pain. I can’t listen to someone talk about a difficult situation without suddenly and physically feeling the emotion they are feeling. I am immediately put into their situation and begin to experience their pain and/or joy. And it’s not something I can control. In fact, it’s kind of annoying.
When I finally googled this trait of mine, I discovered that I am an Empath. Empaths can sense the truth behind the cover and will act compassionately to help that person express him/herself. We can have empathy toward people as well as animals, plants and nature in general. We are highly sensitive to another’s emotions and feelings and have a “deep sense of knowing.” Mostly on an emotional level. From what I’ve read, empathy in an Empath works as an energetic vibration or frequency and that the Empath is able to sense and recognize even the subtlest changes undetectable to the naked eye or the five senses.
It’s weird, right? But it’s something I know and feel on a daily basis. And even by typing these words, I feel like I will be judged, much like John was judged. What happened to him was almost too much to handle. Everyone’s negativity toward his experience soured something he felt positive about and changed by. Which is actually the real tragedy here, and something our society can’t seem to stop doing. We love to knock people down; especially if it’s regarding something we don’t understand or relate to. (Hello, Prop. 8!)
Yet even in that, a large percentage of the world believes in a being that they can’t see or touch. In fact, I remember when the book Conversations with God came out, a woman I work with who was super-religious said that she wouldn’t read it because he was not a prophet. And I’m thinking, why not? Why can’t he be? Why God can’t be speaking through someone right here and right now? Why is that so hard for us to believe, but some book telling me that mold and mildew is a sin is the ultimate word of the Creator of the universe?
I just find it all funny and interesting. Kind of like Break of Noon. It’s not a brilliant play by any stretch, but it did make me wonder what it will take for us to truly believe in miracles again.
Or maybe just believe in people, again.
The Break of Noon is now playing at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood and runs through March 6, 2011.
For tickets or more information, visit geffenplayhouse.com