“ I alone was spared”
Presented by React Theatre, Neil LaBute’s Break at Noon opened at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, in West Seattle on Friday. John Smith, the sole survivor of a mass shooting, supposedly undergoes a religious experience and wishes to tell the press, his family and the whole world about it. Opening with a serious monologue, Smith, played by William Poole, recounts in detail what happened but does not reveal who the shooter was, the relationship of the shooter to the victims, or his motivations.
After making a packet of money selling his cell phone pictures and story to the press, this previously narcissistic jerk, decides to spread the word of God and try to do good in the world…or so he says. Through a series of scenes with various people from his past, his ex-wife, ex-mistress, etc. he tries to get re-involved in their lives, under the auspices of trying to spread the word of God and do good. However, he is really just trying to control other people for his own ends, believing that he has a unique mandate from God to interpret “God’s Will” Unfortunately, the play lacks character development and he remains a narcissistic jerk. In terms of the plot, the scenes after the opening monologue were disconnected from the opening scene.
In focusing on the people from his past the playwright seemed to forget the given circumstances The logical thing for a survivor of a mass shooting would be to campaign specifically for gun control and better psychiatric help for the mentally ill , rather than just demand that all his friends and acquaintances accepts his version of God’s will.
Since it is revealed at the end that he himself and his fellow victims actually bore some moral responsibility for the shooter’s behavior the whole premise of the play was invalidated. If he really had a religious/moral epiphany, why did he not take moral responsibility for what he had done to the shooter, beg forgiveness and make amends to the shooter’s family? These questions are never even posed in the play and it would have been far more interesting and suspenseful had the audience witnessed a moral dilemma rather than the repetitive scenes which did not advance the plot or tell us anything new about the character or about the psychological make-up of mass murderers.
However, LaBute has written some very good dialogue and a few excellent scenes, while endowing this heavy subject matter with a great deal of comic relief. The actors were nothing short of superb. William Poole as John Smith, the sole survivor, was brilliant in his opening and closing monologues, which recounted the experience with true emotion and insight while engaging the audience. He was able to demonstrate the character’s full emotional range, at times he was funny, magnanimous, selfish, and could handle the over-the-top Evangelical preaching.
The best scene in the play was between Smith and Malcolm J. West, as a wise, cynical, amusing, but fairly sleezy lawyer, who handles the business side of John Smith’s victimhood. Mr. West spoke in a mild African American accent, so he was extremely expressive and milked the text for all the wit and comic relief imaginable. Corinne Magins as Jenny, a slick talk-show host who interviews Smith on live television was exceptionally repulsive, as she verbally castrated Smith in the mock studio.
The subject matter of this play was very promising, it is topical, the author clearly has a gift for dialogue but the structure of the play was unfocused, and repetitive scene after scene without a dramatic arc or character development, made for an hour and forty-five minutes of tedium. These actors deserved better material.
The Break of Noon, React Theatre. Youngstown Cultural Arts Center. 4408 Delridge Way SW, West Seattle, Seattle, WA Fri, Sat 8 pm. Sun 7 pm. Thru Sept. 28th. Industry PWYC Monday Sept.15th Info: . Tickets: www.reacttheatre.org or (206) 364-3283