Screaming sirens and flashing red lights open Neil LaBute’s new play, “The Break of Noon,” cueing us that something terrible has just happened.
Armed with a knife and a machine gun, a recently fired employee has just returned to the office building where he worked and dispatched 37 former colleagues. One survived: The generically named John Smith, played in this off-Broadway world premiere by the anything-but-generic David Duchovny.
Now he sits before us, alone onstage, bedraggled and wrapped in a dark blue Snuggi, recounting the horrific mass murder to an unseen police detective. One woman, a secretary he knew, tried to evade the killer by playing dead. He knew better and took the time to slit her throat as if to punish her a little extra, Smith says, his voice breaking just the slightest bit.
That’s the kind of detail that imbues a LaBute play with an air of realism, no matter how preposterous the events described may be. In the next scene, Smith is showing the photograph he managed to snap of the carnage to a deal-making lawyer, who admires the severed breast of one of the victims. Smith explains that the voice of God told him to stay still and be saved.
The lawyer believes the photograph, along with the God story, will earn a handsome payday, at least $1 million. The bloody breast in particular really seems to turn him on.
LaBute, the author of “In the Company of Men,” “Fat Pig” and “The Shape of Things,” traffics in pornography like this masquerading as social commentary. As in “bash: latter-day plays,” and now MCC Theater’s “Break of Noon,” he often cloaks it in an added layer of sanctimonious hucksterism.
Smith becomes a pulpit hustler, preaching about his acceptance of Jesus after the grisly killings. A star of Showtime’s hit comedy series “Californication,” Duchovny leaves whatever sex appeal Smith might have in that Snuggi. He’s no Burt Lancaster selling snake oil as Elmer Gantry. It’s a subdued performance, lacking connection to the other characters or the audience.
Whether that’s from a lack of stage experience or because even he can’t believe anybody is buying Smith’s story is hard to say. The only tension comes in a scene in which Smith tries to reconcile with his reasonably skittish wife Ginger, played with delicate power by Amanda Peet. Ginger quickly brings out Smith’s even scarier side.
The one-act play is written in blackout scenes (the minimal sets are by Neil Patel, the utilitarian costumes by ESosa). Between them, director Jo Bonney resorts to the wearisome cliche of shining very bright lights in our eyes. Possibly to wake us up.
Through Dec. 22 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St., Greenwich Village. Information: +1-212-279-4200; http://www.mcctheater.org Rating: (no stars)
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(Jeremy Gerard is an editor and critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)