#CBR4 Maneuver #33 – The Break of Noon
Profile: Drama, Spirituality, Religion
Summary: Taken from the back cover, “What if God told you to be a better person but the world wouldn’t allow it?
Such is the dilemma facing Joe Smith, a run-of-the-mill white-collar businessman who survives an office shooting and is subsequently touched by what he believes to be a divine vision. His journey toward personal enlightenment – past greed and lust and the other deadly sins – is, by turns, tense, hilarious, profane, and heartbreaking.
Exploring the narrow path to spiritual fulfillment and how strewn it is with the funny, frantic failings of humankind, The Break of Noon showcases Neil LaBute at his discomfiting best.”
After Action Report:
I read about fifty plays every year. Some for the first time. Many for the third or fourth times. It comes with the job of coaching high school speech and debate. As a general rule, I don’t let these plays (and assorted other things) count toward my review goals, mostly because a lot of them are ten minute scenes, but also because there is a difference between reading for work and reading for pleasure. I rarely treat a potential speech piece the way I do an epic fantasy, or a piece of popular nonfiction. But every once in a while, something will overlap.
Neil LaBute has always been intriguing to me. I’m particularly fond of his short play, Iphigenia in Orem out of the “Bash” compilation. LaBute never lets the uncomfortable topic get in the way of telling a story, and the scenes are all the more compelling for forcing the audience to confront these terrible situations. I could go on, but most of what needs to be said about his provocative style can be found in other, more professional reviews and criticism.
The Break of Noon opens with an unnamed man recounting his experiences as the only survivor of a terrible office shooting. Moments before he is to be killed, this man experiences a holy vision in which God tells him to remain still, at the mercy of the shooter, and he will be saved. Convinced that he has been chosen, this John Smith believes that he is now obligated to lead a better life at God’s command, but he doesn’t really know where to start.
The play follows his interactions with a lawyer, his former wife, a talk show host, a dominatrix, his wife’s cousin and finally the detective who interviewed him in the first scene. Each character pushes John to reexamine his experience in different ways. The scenes are confrontational, forcing the audience to examine their own beliefs about god, religion, faith, and salvation.
Break of Noon is heavily informed by the spiritual conflict at work in our culture. Having faith is simultaneously viewed as naïve, yet grounded and sensible. Politicians and pundits play on our inability to define spirituality for ourselves, regardless of what denomination we ascribe to. John Smith is berated by individuals who mock his conversion, and by those who fear confronting what he stands for. Each interaction pushes from a slightly new direction: the complete skeptic, the sudden convert, the true believer.
The play really isn’t about John Smith. We aren’t meant to immediately understand the fundamental transformation he’s undergone. He is just a concept; a rouge idea unleashed on the people in his life. We connect with one or more of those people, as we see aspects of our doubt, faith, contempt or curiosity in them. There is no judgment here; just an exploration of modern spirituality as seen through the lens of a born-again Christian. Or, perhaps I’m reading too much into things.
The Buddha discovered that the path to enlightenment wasn’t a straight line. Each individual needed to walk a path of their own making, which is why Theravada Buddhism emphasizes thought and contemplation, rather than spiritual doctrine. Unfortunately, Western spirituality is perhaps overly focused on a dogmatic approach to the divine, leaving little room for personal interpretation. But where we lack institutional introspection, we have the concept of the parable; an individual of faith placed into a situation where that faith is tested or befuddled. Break of Noon is such a parable; a tool of introspection in a society that rejects the notion.
And that is ultimately why what I get out of it is going to be very different than what you get out of it. If you take the broad view, any novel is an opportunity to confront yourself and learn a little more about what makes you tick. But some books are better than others at tapping into that mentality. The Break of Noon happens to do it for me, but I think its context is broad enough to work anyone who keeps an open mind.