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Neil LaBute and company engage in filthy talk at Book Soup

June 28, 2010 |  9:00 am

Labute When Neil LaBute takes the floor, you can be sure that the evening is going to be filled with all sorts of dirty talk and creative swearing. On Sunday night at Book Soup, the provocative playwright did not disappoint his fans.

LaBute was on hand at the West Hollywood bookstore to plug his new volume, "Filthy Talk for Troubled Times," a compilation of some of his new and old plays that is being published in July by Soft Skull Press.

He was joined by actors Julia Stiles and Johnny Galecki, who read profanity-laden selections from the book to a giggling audience of about 40 people.

The hourlong free event was the West Coast version of a reading that took place earlier this month in New York, also involving Stiles and Galecki. The actors participated in a reading of LaBute's work at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in the West Village. The event, which was organized by MCC Theater, also included actors Justin Long, Craig Bierko, Alice Eve and Josh Hamilton.

The L.A. reading was a much smaller affair and took place in a cramped corner of the bookstore. Arriving 15 minutes late, LaBute said he was going to speak without a microphone and proceeded to introduce his two actors. (Throughout the evening, he generously dropped the f-bomb at random points, apparently for comic effect -- or perhaps to satisfy those who had come to expect nothing less from the former enfant terrible of the theater world.)

Stiles The playwright then read a monologue from his short drama "Helter Skelter," about a man who revealed his secret life to his wife during a break in holiday shopping. Stiles and Galecki took turns reading monologues from "Filthy Talk for Troubled Times," which is LaBute's first play. The obscenity-laced speeches covered a variety of topics including dating and aggravated sexual assault.

LaBute read aloud a short story that will be published soon in a British magazine. The story is about a young man's romantic encounter with an attractive cougar and features graphic descriptions of oral sex and various parts of the female anatomy.

In between readings, LaBute and the actors answered questions from the audience. Stiles wondered aloud why they were sitting in the "dominatrix section" of the bookstore. (They were surrounded by books featuring scantily clad women in revealing poses.)

One attendee asked LaBute about his writing process. "I have not found the alchemy," he said. "A lot of the complexity comes from the human factor these actors bring to it."

He said rewriting is an important step for him and that he often found himself cutting pages out of a play because an actor could do a better job communicating what was written by way of facial expressions and other non-verbal cues. "So the finished product goes through many hands. Happily, I do take credit for all of that," he said.

The evening ended with a reading of LaBute's short play "Romance," a non-gender-specific two-hander that will have its premiere in New York this summer. Stiles and Galecki played a former couple who reunited shortly after their breakup for a round of verbal sparring.

Those of you looking for a LaBute course that is more filling than Sunday's sampler platter will have to wait until February, when his new play "The Break of Noon" opens at the Geffen Playhouse. The drama tells the story of a man who survives an office shooting and embarks on a spiritual tour.

-- David Ng

Photo, from top: Neil LaBute. Credit: Claudio Onorati / EPA. Julia Stiles. Credit: Roger Kisby / Getty Images for American Express

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