Three women – one thin, one voluptuous, one middle-aged – are sitting on a park bench, eating enormous bowls of salad. Soon they are taken with giggles, then howls of laughter.
Hmmm. How fun is it to eat salad?
Shotgun Players’ production of Women Laughing Alone with Salad zeros in on this question. And the answers are engaging, hilarious and very familiar.
Sheila Callaghan’s play, which opened this past Saturday at the Ashby Theater, is based on a meme that ran the internet circuit from an article published on the feminist blog, The Hairpin. The article showed 18 stock photos of women eating salad, alone, and laughing; no commentary was provided. From there the images moved into the world of internet comedy, with multiple versions, send-ups and commentary.
Callaghan’s two-act play is certainly a comic send-up. After the three women on the bench recover from their convulsive laughter, Sandy (Melanie DuPuy) leaves the stage and is replaced by Guy (Caleb Cabrera), who wanders in to sit down between curvaceous Meredith (Regina Morones) and lean Tori (Sango Tajima). Casually, he begins to unwrap a burrito and takes a big bit out of it. The two women are transfixed, salads forgotten as they watch every miniscule movement of Guy’s culinary ritual. Saliva abounds.
Guy is also on his cell, complaining to his mother that ever since he was a “wet, fleshy blob expelled” from his mother’s womb 29 years before, she has treated him like, what, a servant? Insisting, for example, he brings home rum chocolate Bavarian cake for, who? – surely not his mother, who once a former feminist activist is now actively destroying her body with extreme beauty treatments.
Guy dreams of meeting a woman who lives in another more exotic – and sexual – world. A woman who has been to Berlin, and other places where there are “more lingerie shops than bakeries.” Instead, he lives with his very American bourgeois but hip girlfriend, Tori, who does yoga and eats only salad, claiming she has “food allergies”.
He finds that girl of his sexual fantasies, Meredith, in a bar, and drags her home, where he envisions the ultimate male fantasy – a threesome. Act 1 closes with an orgy between the three, brilliantly choreographed by Natalie Green in what is designated in the program as “Intimacy Direction.” The threesome dissolves into a cat fight complete with lettuce. Tori and Meredith stab each other with plastic forks.
Act 2 takes us to the advertising studio that is the source of this green, oil-and-vinegary image of smiling solitary (and, we assume, lonely) women. Across a conference table two callow boy-boys, Joe and Bruce, bump through elaborate handshakes, wink-wink nudge-nudge jokes and predictable sports’ obsessions. They are played by Regina Morones and Sango Tajima, gray-suited, hair slicked back. The third trouser role is their boss, Guy, played by Melanie DuPuy, who enters to inform them it’s time they put forth an effective campaign for an anti-depressant targeting women. Front and center, they recite a litany of jingles: Effervatrol: It’s you, only better.
Guy departs to confront the new woman exec, played (yes) by Caleb Cabrera, who moves splendidly in four-inch stilettos.
Sheila Callaghan’s fresh and wise dialog is snappy and feisty and right to the point, delving into the deep absurdities of our cultural biases around sex and gender and, even more, how those biases are cultivated and preserved. Susannah Martin picks up where Callaghan leaves off, providing fast-paced and sly direction for this production’s four excellent actors. The second act is not as careeningly funny as the first; there is something innately sobering about power and its casual implementation. But this is a terrific play and a wonderful production.
– Jaime Robles
Women Laughing Alone with Salad continues at Shotgun Players’ Ashby Theater through November 11. For tickets and information, visit shotgunplayers.org.