Playwright Neil LaBute Likely to Piss Off Some Mormons With This One

In the canon of modern New York playwrights, Neil LaBute's dramedies about how awful people are (or rather, how fucking awful people are, as Voice critic Rob Weinert-Kendt once called him "American theater's reigning misanthrope") are pretty essential. He's also, notably, one of the few incredibly successful playwrights with ties (or past ties) to the Church of Latter-Day Saints. Of course, the most notable media products out there about the LDS church have often met with some level of controversy.

HBO's hit show Big Love is a prime example; Jon Krakauer's bestseller Under the Banner of Heaven is another obvious one. And of course, there's LaBute's play cycle Bash, in which LaBute put on a show about three Mormons doing awful things. It got him booted from the church. Well, looks like he's back for more.

Manhattan Class Company -- or MCC Theater, a company run by New York's go-to casting agent Bernie Telsey, where LaBute is the playwright-in-residence -- just put out a release detailing their 25th season this morning. And LaBute's forthcoming work, The Break of Noon, sounds like somewhere he's been before:

Amidst the chaos and horror of the worst office shooting in American history, John Smith sees the face of God. His modern-day revelation creates a maelstrom of disbelief among everyone he knows. A newcomer to faith, John urgently searches for a modern response to the age-old question: at what cost salvation?

Sure, "John Smith" could just be a catchall for your everyday American. And the faith Smith finds in LaBute's play could be -- and likely is -- the kind that can be interpreted in any number of ways, as his work has grown a little more subtle since BASH: Latter-Day Plays was titled.

But as we well know, John Smith sounds an awful lot like "Joseph Smith," who's responsible for the Mormon church existing. And with this thing being helmed by director Jo Bonney -- a go-to for MCC, who's worked with LaBute before, and who is also classic New York theater renegade Eric Bogosian's wife -- and with LaBute having just had his first Broadway production (last season's Reasons To Be Pretty), all signs point to LaBute's new work as less "meditation on faith" and more "awesome shitshow of controversy that leaves little to the imagination."

In other words: This'll be fun to watch.

[fkamer@villagevoice.com]


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