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Postcard from New York: An evening of 'filthy' talk from Neil LaBute

June 5, 2010 |  7:30 pm
Neil LaBute1One seemingly ironclad rule of contemporary theater: All Neil LaBute relationships end horribly. Right?

Apparently not.

One year after LaBute and MCC, the small Off-Broadway theater company helmed by Robert LuPone and Bernard Telsey, seemingly split in sudden and public fashion, the playwright and theater are together again.  LaBute was in MCC’s home at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in Greenwich Village on Friday for the second of three benefit performances for the company. The evening featured a reading of the playwright’s first produced work, “Filthy Talk for Troubled Times.” 

In pre-curtain remarks, MCC Associate Artistic Director Will Cantler said the company looked forward to finally presenting LaBute’s “The Break of Noon,” the very work that was supposed to premiere last year and whose cancellation prompted the much-talked about breakup between LaBute and MCC. (MCC’s production of “The Break of Noon” is being mounted in conjunction with the Geffen Playhouse and, as announced in April, will be seen next February in Westwood.)

On Friday night, Cantler spoke fondly of the six plays LaBute wrote for the theater in the last eight

years, and a spokesman for the theater said LaBute is, indeed, still MCC’s “playwright in residence.” Whatever might have gone down last year is apparently water under the bridge; MCC is clearly back in the Neil LaBute business.

As for “Filthy Talk for Troubled Times,” the 1989 play (which is being published by Soft Skull Press on June 15) hasn’t been seen in New York since its original production — and, remarkably, it doesn’t feel dated at all.  The six-person play is an hourlong series of quick vignettes, as if the audience were simply overhearing the conversations and inner monologues of patrons at a dive in Middle America.  (The work seems inspired by Wallace Shawn’s 1975 play, “Our Late Night.”)  Despite reading from scripts, Craig Bierko, Alice Eve, Johnny Galecki, Josh Hamilton, Justin Long and Julia Stiles all delivered the anecdotes, zingers and other filthy talk with relish.  Hamilton brought particular gusto to one monologue about Frank Sinatra and a certain four-letter word.

Unencumbered by plot twists or the other demands of conventional, full-length dramas, “Filthy Talk” is a pure, untapped spring of LaBute’s signature dialogue and themes (namely: men are pigs).  Legend has it that at one of the first performances of “Filthy Talk,” during its 1989 off-off-Broadway run, an audience member stood up during a performance and yelled, “Kill the playwright!”  This time around, the audience was all laughter and applause. Even in the “filthy” world of Neil LaBute, time apparently does heal some, if not all, wounds.

-- James C. Taylor

Photo: Neil LaBute. Credit: Jordan Strauss