The Atheist by Ronan Noone. Directed by Justin Waldman Reviewed by J.Peter Bergman
"A little too easy, I thought."
Campbell Scott as Augustine Early; photo: T. Charles Erickson
Ronan Noone's play "The Atheist" is the latest in the one-person show group that seems destined to alter my opinion of one-handers. I have been more and more impressed with the drama of these works over the past two years and this new play at the Williamstown Theatre Festival's Nikos Stage is definitely a part of this new group. A strong work about a man's obsession with fame and personal success at any cost, it casts Campbell Scott as, of all things, an oportunistic journalist. On a perfectly marvelous small set by Cristine Todesco, in a costume that shrieks pretension designed by Jessica Curtwright and under moody and atmospheric lighting designed by Ben Stanton, the actor tells the story, and performs the inner psyche, of Augustine Early, a man whose only beliefs are centered within himself. An over-eager egocentric who removed himself from the mainstream of mankind at the age of 12, this opportunist recreates himself in his own image, denying any outside presence of influence, be it man or god.
While he sounds like someone hard to like, in Scott's hands he becomes a most sympathetic bastard. We want to, nay expect to, dislike him whole-heartedly, and yet as he progresses through the tale of his life we are caught up in his mind and his own mechanism of self-preservation. By the time his videotape of his confession, one of three in the show, is finished, prior to his suicide, we want him to become less of a success, more of a failure and he doesn't let us down. Scott and Noone, under the capable guidance of director Justin Waldman, bring us to Early's depths and heights with equal strength.
Waldman and Scott have brought this man to vibrant life. There is never a moment when we do not believe we are witnessing Early on this stage, starring in his own horror movie. Scott disappears behind a sneer, an awkward smile, a violent gesture. The two, together, blend movement around a table, the life-force of a chair, the contents of a notebook, into the seamless character of Augustine Early. While the writing is quirky, but smart, the living character is so much more than that. Early is the most memorable new hero/villain in recent memory.
Campbell Scott; photo: T. Charles Erickson
The Atheist plays at the Nikos Stage at the Williamstown Theatre Festival through July 6. For information and/or tickets, please call 413-597-3400 or to their website at: www.wtfestival.org.