The witching hour

By CAROLYN CLAY  |  September 18, 2007

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THE ATHEIST: A smug, calculating opportunism that’s mightier than pen or sword.

Throw out God and ethics become the bathwater. Or so Ronan Noone’s well-crafted if not entirely convincing portrait of a charming sleazebag, THE ATHEIST, would seem to suggest. This new one-man show by the Irish-born author of the Baile trilogy, in its world premiere courtesy of the Huntington Theatre Company (at the Calderwood Pavilion through September 30), reminded me less of Noone’s Ireland-town triptych than of countryman Conor McPherson’s St. Nicholas, which also is a tale told by a morally impaired journalist. Noone’s Augustine Early doesn’t fall in with vampires, as McPherson’s besotted drama critic does. He’s just a Kansas reporter with a knack for deception, looking for a ticket to fame, no matter what the cost — to him or to others.

Trouble is, the ticket’s too easy to buy — and that makes the theater piece harder to buy. It’s nicely written, however, in a lilting cadence that belies its cold-bloodedness and some telling linguistic details. (Our reporter describes all sexual activity in cowboy terminology.) And it’s nicely delivered, with a mix of remembered ruthlessness and shit-eating languor (if not, on opening night, with sufficient command of the lines), by film and stage actor Campbell Scott, whose Augustine, following his namesake into the confessional, reveals a smug, calculating opportunism that’s mightier than pen or sword.

Adjusting a video camera to record the events mapped out in his reporter’s diary, this handsome hustler in a Colonel Sanders suit sheds his outerwear as he does his story, starting with an anecdote about the first time he was duped, moving on to the childhood rejection of the Deity that gave him callous “carte blanche,” then proudly spinning a tale of sex, voyeurism, blackmail, political scandal, and tabloid journalism that has, in his words, “color, spice, and flavor, oh yeah.” Eventually, Early’s take-no-prisoners scheme to achieve notoriety bites him in the ass, introducing him to the dark underside of celebrity and leading him to a somewhat implausible end. But for much of The Atheist, its unrepentant antihero seems to enjoy his self-propelled, unprincipled ride. And in the grand tradition of storytelling embraced by Irish writers wherever they are, this godless Kansan gets us to enjoy it too. Which says nothing good about spinner or spectator.

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A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE: This very good production is just a little short on heat.

When it came to directing A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (at the Arsenal Center for the Arts through October 7), New Repertory Theatre honcho Rick Lombardo did not depend on the kindness of strangers. He cast his wife, Rachel Harker, as Tennessee Williams’s wilting Southern flower, Blanche DuBois. And he has built around her an uncut, museum-worthy staging of the 1947 Pulitzer Prize winner that’s set in a honking, flashing New Orleans French Quarter where, in an age before air-conditioning, a now raffish, now savage life is lived in a sort of hothouse fishbowl very different from Blanche’s long-moribund, now-lost Mississippi plantation, Belle Reve.

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Related: The games people play, Grief encounter, Play by play: October 23, 2009, More more >
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