The Atheist

Ronan Noone
Barrow Street Theatre, New York
(2009)

Production photo

The Culture Project based in Greenwich Village is best known in the UK for the searing indictment of the US criminal justice system, The Exonerated, which played at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2005 and at the Riverside Studios in 2006. Their latest production also has a political angle too, although the tone of cynical comedy is very different.

Film specialist, Campbell Scott (the son of George C.) plays Augustine Early, a tyro journalist on the make. He wants to get to the top and doesn't care who he has to walk over to get there.

Early addresses us from a desk in front of a screen that changes colour and intermittently shows filmed images, as he delivers what turns out to be a final confession. He gets through a lot of confessing in a chillingly humorous 1¾ hours. Starting with his youth, we learn about an ambitious young man who is closer to immoral than amoral.

Sadly many of the people with whom he mixes in his Kansan home town are little better. His editor is just trying to run a paper and refuses to employ Augustine full-time.

His girlfriend Jenny becomes the unwitting cog in a plan that rockets our man to stardom, with her own place in history not too far behind, but at a cost to his soul and one imagines hers.

The key is the local congressman, a good, upstanding pillar of society but with a predilection for voyeurism that unfortunately involves Jenny and subsequently his neglected wife.

By the end, the story encompasses blackmail, fame and disrepute for Augustine, as well as a good dose of sex. It also sinks the congressman and reveals both Jenny and the politician's wife to be on the make, like everyone else in this comically sordid and cynical vision of public life in the USA today.

Young writer Ronan Noone shows great promise and gets great support from Scott, who saves his wholly malign character from caricature thanks to his earnestness and comic distance, under the direction of Justin Waldman. At least in part, this is because in these voyeuristic, immoral times, it is possible to believe that almost everything in the play could happen.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher