Filthy Talk for Troubled Times

One of several pieces of modern American writing brought to the Fringe by Phantom Owl Productions, Neil Labute’s 1989 play Filthy Talk for Troubled Times takes a frank look at gender, war and misogyny.

Brilliantly acted and directed, this is American theatre at its best.

Set in a strip club in an unspecified part of America, four unnamed men and two scantily clad waitresses bemoan their complicated relations with the opposite sex through a series of short scenes and monologues. The men are deluded and gloriously revolting, whilst the women are hopelessly flawed, caught between desires for human connection and casual sex.

The actors are on top form and all give exceptional performances. The women offer the most three-dimensional characters but, in a play about misogyny, one would expect most of the men to be irreconcilable scumbags anyway. Dean Chakvala’s character provides the occasional glimmer of light amongst the men, defending himself against accusations of insensitivity before being told that “it’s not a bad thing”. Perhaps the most haunting part of the play is the last monologue of the show from David Mauer’s hitherto quiet character, discussing his sense of inherent superiority as a white, employed male. “Thank you for being less than me” he tells those he considers racially and sexually inferior, his complete lack of empathy utterly disturbing.

The play revels in its own darkness and despite the heavy textual focus on individual performances, a sense of ensemble is maintained through the use of Greek chorus-like repetition and emphasis, helping to maintain the overall energy of the piece. Each character has a certain space on the stage that they revert to when delivering their monologues, subtly providing a greater sense of continuity that could become lost in the play’s episodic structure.

Filthy Talk for Troubled Times leaves the issues it raises unresolved, offering up a dark vision of society that remains all the darker for its strong basis in reality. Brilliantly acted and directed, this is American theatre at its best.

Reviews by Hattie Long

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The Blurb

Set in a bar in Anytown, USA, and populated by a group of everymen (and two beleaguered everywomen), this series of frank exchanges explores the innumerable varieties of American intolerance. A unique snapshot of our times, the play – seldom allowed to be staged by the author since its premiere – provides a compelling look at the early thinking and evolution of one of America's great theatre artists.