Women Laughing Alone With Salad
Sheila Callaghan's play takes a modern-day look at the "body beautiful."
Greens, greens everywhere...speared on forks about to be inserted into the mouths of too-happy-looking supermodels; on the minds of hugely insecure women who are both rail-thin and curvy; even falling out of the sky like some sort of Whole Foods-induced plague.
Theatergoers can search far and wide before they find a play as salad-phobic as Women Laughing Alone With Salad. Directed by Neel Keller in its West Coast premiere at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, Callaghan's fantastical send-up of the female body image machine is as canny as it is ribald. If the playwright has her way, you will never look at kale the same way again.
Using a series of advertising images of women and salad and of women and water as her point of departure, Callaghan turns her creatively cockeyed glance to the question of gender and human anatomy and seemingly lets her imagination run wild. A man, aptly named Guy, attempts to make sense of the three women in his life...and they of him. Guy will lose that battle, but Women Laughing Alone With Salad audiences will come out winners.
From a technical perspective, Keller's production is a feast. Keith Mitchell's highly versatile set — with an assist by projection designer Keith Skretch — transports viewers from Manhattan dance clubs to Paris walkways, from open roads into the dark recesses of our Guy's imagination. The costumes of Ann Closs-Farley are playful and kooky. Nice work also by fight director Ahmed Best who choreographs a wickedly comic threesome that later turns into knock-down, drag-out bout between two women.
Surrounded though it is by events both bizarre and phantasmagorical, Callaghan's play is essentially a quest for enlightenment when it comes to both sexes. Guy (played by David Clayton Rogers), a good-looking waiter at an upscale restaurant, can score with women, but he doesn't "get" them. His mother Sandy (Lisa Banes), a feminist activist in her youth, now spends her days shopping, salon-ing, and trying out every age-defying product, no matter how extreme. Guy's girlfriend, Tori (Nora Kirkpatrick) is as slim as a greyhound and goes into a tizzy at the thought of putting anything caloric into her mouth. The terminally frustrated Guy, meanwhile, sets his lusty sights on Meredith (Dinora Z. Walcott) the voluptuous woman he spots dancing at a club.
And what a woman she is. "I want you to fear me," she tells Guy. "I want the gravity of my circumference to suck you and everyone you love into me."
All of the women have food and body fixations. Guy is looking for some kind of an authentic connection, for somebody who doesn't need a salad. In the second act, his quest takes him to the boardroom of a pharmaceutical company where he will utilize those crazy laughing women and salad memes to sell antidepressants. This second act, however, feels like a bit of thematic overkill on Callaghan's part. Regardless, the sequence still has plenty of laughs.
Keller's cast members are superbly in synch with the play's darkly comic rhythms. Rogers' Guy is part mama's boy, part would-be player. In his hands, the Guy's desperation is palpable, and he's no match for the "gentler sex." Banes, Kirkpatrick, and Walcott deftly handle much of the play's comic sequences, often via silent exchanges (the opening scene has all three hilariously devouring salad and then nearly going to war.)
Shimmying out on the dance floor, Walcott expertly parries Rogers' comic come-ons in a terrific scene that is both sexy and witty. Meredith may well be the play's best-adjusted character, and Walcott grounds her nicely. Kirkpatrick, also quite funny, works hard at making poor vulnerable Tori not come across as Guy's doormat.
As strong as her castmates are, ultimately it's the veteran character actor Banes who nearly walks off with the proceedings. Parodying a society grande dame who would be equally at home in Beverly Hills, the glassy-eyed Banes is all coolness and cutting remarks even as body parts are literally falling off her person. Banes' work in that aforementioned second act (which contains a twist that will not be revealed here) is especially arresting.
Between Guy and the women, the always interesting Callaghan has given her audience plenty to chew on. Over a post-show salad, of course.