The name says it all, so be warned. It’s called “Filthy Talk for Troubled Times,” but the “trouble” comes mostly from the play itself.
Playwright Neil LaBute revels in writing long boring monologues: in “Wrecks” Ed Harris stands over his wife’s coffin and bemoans her loss for the full length of the play. In “The Break of Noon,” Kevin Anderson witnesses a massacre, hears the voice of God, and becomes a long-winded evangelist.
“In Bash: Latter-Day Plays,” two of the three one-acts are monologues. In one a man explains why he suffocated his baby daughter; in the other a woman explains how she killed her young son. And, perhaps his most famous (or infamous) monologue of all: the lament by the overweight librarian in “Fat Pig.”
Is it any wonder that LaBute was dubbed “American theater’s reigning misanthrope” in The Village Voice?
In “Filthy Talk for Troubled Times,” LaBute continues his cynical attacks on both sexes. The venue is an art gallery, where four men have come to assess and hit on any available women. This new setting, an actual gallery in Santa Monica’s tony Bergamot Station housing paintings by Cameron Jordan, is a charming variation from the topless New York bar which was the original setting when the play was first produced in 1989.
The four men, dismayed because there are as many available men at the gallery as there are women, eventually settle for prowling aimlessly, drinking themselves into oblivion, and boasting about their sexual prowess and conquests.
You don’t have to be particularly thin-skinned to be offended — or at least annoyed — by the ongoing monologues, as each man takes a turn denigrating and deriding females as a whole. Not funny. Not witty. Not clever. And the same goes for the unambiguous monologues dealing with homosexuality, race and other politically-volatile topics.
Moreover, the women are just as shallow as the men. They come in the form of two horny cocktail waitresses anxious to go to bed right this minute with anyone. Can we call them slutty? Or is this just LaBute’s take on the immorality of current American society?
And finally, there are the three naked ladies, arranged as a live art “installation,” who periodically leave their pedestals and parade around the gallery in robot formation. They serve as a kind of Greek chorus, mouthing series of words in free association, presumably to give an intellectual context to the scatology of the other performers.
But frankly, their dialogue is even more obtuse than that of the gallery prowlers. They speak profundities like “art parallels life” (whatever that means!) and “art completes what nature cannot finish.”
There are discussions of penises, phallic symbols, breasts, vaginas, orgasms, the superiority of males, etc. But mostly there are four-letter words. Now, let me make it clear: I’ve never been one to blanch at foul language. But having everyone shouting the “f” word 18 times in each sentence, using it as an expletive, as an opinion, as a verb, as an adjective, as a lament, or as a plea just isn’t my idea of scintillating dialogue.
To give some credit where it’s warranted, I guess: the actors did a good job with a shoddy play and director Frederique Michel did well keeping things moving — and perhaps keeping the audience from rising up and clobbering the players.
Meanwhile, at the Robert Berman Gallery next door, a wonderful exhibition has been mounted in conjunction with the play. Titled “Home. Sweet. Home.” it features the innovative photography of Gerald Slota, working off snippets of story and snatches of dialogue supplied by LaBute. It’s a wonderfully edgy and quirky collection, and well worth seeing. In fact, you can skip the play. But be sure to see the exhibit.
“Filthy Talk for Troubled Times,” produced by City Garage, the resident company at Track 16, Bergamot Station, will continue at Building C1, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. through Feb. 26. Call (310) 319-9939 for tickets and information.
Gerald Slota’s photographs will be on display at Building C2 through Feb. 4.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at email@example.com.