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Theater review: ‘Filthy Talk for Troubled Times’ by City Garage

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Neil LaBute’s first produced play, “Filthy Talk for Troubled Times,” presaged the “men-as-irredeemable-pigs” genre that LaBute has explored more fully in later works.

Beginning with that 1990 debut, LaBute has always courted controversy. But although “Filthy” now seems overwrought and a bit dated, it holds interest as the distant echo of a young artist finding his voice.

Director Frédérique Michel and production designer Charles Duncombe revisit LaBute’s seldom-produced play in a bold albeit flawed production at City Garage’s Bergamot Station space. The play’s setting has been shifted from a topless bar to the aesthetic precincts of an art gallery –- a risky innovation obviously designed to point out the crass objectification of the female form.

Three nude women (Kye Kinder, Heather Leigh Pasternak and Vera Petrychenka), carrying hatboxes –- anachronistic artifacts of vanished conventions –- stalk through Duncombe’s stark set like automata, ultimately freezing into a human triptych. The increasingly drunken male characters (Troy Dunn, David E. Frank, Dave Mack and Kenneth Rudnicki) banter salaciously and ogle the nude “art objects” like a wolf pack as two waitresses (Cynthia Mance and Katrina Nelson) recount sordid past sexual episodes.

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Duncombe contributes additional material -– repetitive musings on such words as “art” and “object” -- that sometimes seems at odds with the play’s vulgarity. But although the uneven cast doesn’t always measure up to the production’s demands, Duncombe’s new text, coupled with Michel’s ever-rigorous staging, heightens LaBute’s sophomorically sensational work into a serious examination of semantics, sin and the human imperative for connection, however imperfect.

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Neil LaBute tries his hand at an art show

More theater reviews from the Los Angeles Times

-- F. Kathleen Foley

“Filthy Talk for Troubled Times,” City Garage at Track 16 Gallery, Building C-1 at Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb. 26. $25. (310) 319-9939. www.citygarage.org. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.


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