Women Laughing Alone With Salad is a completely mesmerizing, multi-media show. Like a gourmet salad bar, this one has all the good stuff, plus a lot of dressings – and undressings.
It earns five stars and a bushel basket of croutons. The really nice kind.
Written by Sheila Callaghan and directed by Kip Fagan, the production combines first rate acting by a superb quartet with superb special effects, photography, video, computer generated imagery, and terrific, seat-rattling, wrap-around sound designed and composed by Palmer Hefferan.
Kudos to inventive Set Designer Misha Kachman, Costume Designer Ivania Stack (great wigs!), Lighting Designer Colin K. Bills, Video Designer Jared Mezzocchi, and Choreographers Joe Isenberg and Melanie George (Which of you two orchestrated that, ahem, hysterical scene near the end of Act I?).
The show could be subtitled: What do women (and men) want?
What DO they want? Is it a healthy lifestyle? Upward mobility? Meaningful sex?
And what do they get? Self-loathing? Distorted priorities and self-images? One night stands? Delayed dreams?
The women of yesteryear, the activists, the feminists, the ERA supporters: Where are they now? What happened to them and their ideals? What about the new generation of feminists – what will they stand – or lie down – for? How much has advertising impacted how women feel about themselves and their bodies? Can a pill cure everything?
This tossed salad of provocative concepts forms the bones of the show.
The genesis of the plot came about when journalist Edith Zimmerman posted a series of 18 stock photos of women, all alone, except for a bowl of salad in 2011. Which they all seemed to really, really enjoy. They savor each mouthful,
It went viral.
A few months later another writer Jane Marie posted more stock photography, this time of women who were trying to drink water out of a bottle – and miss. Water is flying everywhere.
More silly photo series followed. We’ve all seen them – maybe we hit the “like” button or posted a snarky or sexist comment.
The playwright combined some of these memes into a plot about how men and women, alike, are affected by the pressures of advertising, family, friends, co-workers, and suitors to achieve feminine or masculine ideals.
The set for Act I, within Woolly’s iconic industrial chic theater, appears to be a large, solid concrete block wall with a weathered wooden park bench set in front of it. It is lit by a haunting blue light. Above the stage fly some flat cloud shapes.
That impression changes shortly after the show begins. And, turns to amazement in Act II.
The clouds, the stage curtain and the concrete block wall all become screens for a series of dazzling lighting effects, video, and computer generated imagery.
As the lights go up, Meredith (Kimberly Gilbert), Sandy (Janet Ulrich Brooks), and Tori (Meghan Reardon) are seated together on the park bench.
Seemingly oblivious to each other, they are eating salad. Alone. And laughing. Uproariously.
What’s so funny about romaine lettuce?
They laugh until the audience is laughing along with them.
Within a few moments, we are in a hot, haute New York City bar. Guy (Thomas Keegan), the live-in boyfriend of Tori is alone at a standup table, nursing his drink and hairy eyeballing Meredith.
Writhing and moving suggestively by herself, the zaftig Meredith is very much aware of Guy’s stare – and intentions. She even knows that lines he’ll use as he approaches here.
“He’ll say he went to a fabulous bar in Berlin,” she says.
Guy echoes that comment moments later.
And, oh yes, Tori is also there, off in a corner enjoying the night scene.
Tori is blonde and slender. Meredith, spilling from her girdle-like dress, is not.
Nothing physical happens that night, but Meredith does a quick time travel jump into the past with Guy, which does not dampen his lust for her.
Guy, who has his own issues, cannot get Meredith off his mind.
A day or two later, he heads to his mother’s apartment to take her out for dinner.
Sandy (Janet Ulrich Brooks) doesn’t want to go.
A former activist, she’s trying, in that Joan Rivers kind of way, to stave off old age. Instead of botox and silicone injections, she’s trying to make her hands look younger, and plunges her digits into what appears to be a box of ‘nibblers.’
Her son reveals some issues from their past and demands to know what happened to the woman who used to be on the front lines of activism. What happened to the 14-year old holding a sign that reads: “My body, my choice”? He carries of photo of that scene in his pocket.
Sandy married his father when she got pregnant, later divorcing him when Guy was a teen.
“You’d be an abortion!” is her blunt response.
The confused young man returns to the bar, encounters Meredith again, and brings her home. Tori is also at home.
What happens next involves a boatload of lettuce. With and without dressing.
This is where the choreography gets downright – and upright – creative.
Act II, while short, brings another facet to the term “gender fluid.”
Without revealing the plot, plot your way to the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company for an inventive show that highlights and supports excellence in acting with a terrific “backstage” creative team.
As this was the opening night and a world premiere, the audience was treated to over-the-top, scrumptious desserts and salad-filled tortes by RSVP Catering. It was a yummy night in the theater.
Running Time: Approximately two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
Women Laughing Alone With Salad plays through October 4, 2015 at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company – 641 D Street NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 393-3939.or purchase them online.
The Women’s Voices Theater Festival’s website.
DCMetroTheaterArts’ coverage of The Women’s Voices Theater Festival: reviews, articles, and interviews.