BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
The star of "The X-Files" and "Californication," David Duchovny makes a terrific stage debut in MCC Theater's world premiere of "The Break of Noon," a thought-provoking new drama by Neil LaBute which opened Monday at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.
Compelling in every haunted respect, Duchovny portrays one John Smith, an average if not so admirable guy who is the sole survivor of a wholesale massacre in his office.
The play begins with an intense, emotional monologue by John, who painfully describes for the police the mass slaughter perpetrated by a discharged employee. Disheveled, spattered in blood, the trembling John hoarsely declares that just as he was about to be gunned down he heard a "beautiful deep clear voice using my name" telling him he would be saved.This miraculous occurrence causes John to reexamine his shabby life and strive to be better. John's ex-wife doubts both his intentions and his outspoken claims regarding divine intervention. So does John's former girlfriend. Making the audience wonder about John's sincerity is a scene with a lawyer arranging the million-dollar sale of a cell phone photo he snapped of the carnage.
John earnestly persists in sharing the gospel of his other-worldly experience in the various faces of disbelief shown by others. During the drama's 90 minutes and eight scenes, John's account of his deliverance by God undergoes change and ultimately he confesses further details about the episode.
A characteristically inventive work by the author of "Fat Pig" and "reasons to be pretty," LaBute's trimly shaped play is a sharply written study of a worthless man grappling with his conscience in the glory of inexplicable grace. Composed mostly as taut two-character scenes, the play turns improbably lurid — even creepy — when John encounters the daughter of a slain coworker, but that segment undeniably pays off well in dramatic terms.
Onstage virtually every minute in his demanding role as an inarticulate everyman, Duchovny believably conveys John's fumbling yearnings and conflicts. Duchovny's warm-hearted appeal as a regular guy coping with unthinkable things helps to anchor the story's mystical side.
Duchovny's deeply-felt performance is abetted by three fine actors depicting two characters each. Amanda Peet is vivid in contrasting roles as the bitter ex-wife and trashy girlfriend, aided nicely by costume designer ESosa's changes in her appearance. All coy gesticulations and sweetly insinuating tones, Tracee Chimo is deadly funny as a glib TV interviewer. John Earl Jelks is especially striking as a lawyer who counsels John about his options in the media minefield while licking his own lips over their likely profitability.
As well as cultivating such effective performances, director Jo Bonney expertly and smoothly stages the production using designer Neil Patel's neat turntable settings plus the retina-scorching punctuation of David Weiner's lighting. Longtime fans will find LaBute in prime form while Duchovny's followers will see him excel in a challenging role at the heart of an absorbing drama.
"The Break of Noon" continues through Dec. 22 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St., New York. Call (212) 279-4200 or visit www.mcctheater.org.