Well, folks, I’m not sure I should bother to tell anyone to go see this, as without a doubt it will have sold out before I finish writing this sentence. Word of mouth being what it is in this town, you’ve probably already heard that Woolly Mammoth’s got a runaway hit with this world premiere by Sheila Callaghan.
Presented as part of the Woman’s Voices Theatre Festival, Women Laughing Alone With Salad is a Molotov cocktail in pretty wrapping: underneath the brightly printed paper, it’s deadly serious, but it’s so sparkly and cheery you just can’t resist reaching out and touching it.
Callaghan’s springboard into this fantastically funny play was a series of stock photographs of women. Posted online by Journalist Edith Zimmerman in 2011, they became a meme almost immediately, touching off a worldwide dialogue about womens’ images, advertising and cultural expectations that is still continuing to this day.
It’s a complex subject: to what extent are we, as women- and men- and as consumers- contributing to our own impossible expectations? Sure, it’s easy enough to say it’s the fault of corporations greedy to sell products- but what is less of a cop-out and far more difficult to explore is how we ourselves are also culpable.
Let it be known here that I’m not going to tell you much about the play itself, and shame on anyone who spoils the fun of it, particularly the second act. Suffice to say that the four person ensemble of Kimberly Gilbert, Meghan Reardon, Janet Ulrich Brooks, and Thomas Keegan is blazingly brave, terrific and superbly cast. Each of them plays multiple roles, and the talent is impressive; if this play goes elsewhere after the run (and it should) I dare you to find better actors for these particular roles. Nope, can’t be done.
My one and only quibble on opening night was that timing was too fast in spots: pause for laughs, kids, we need to hear every word- there are quotable gems everywhere – we’ll want to share with the poor sods who can’t get tickets!
Particular praise should also be aimed towards director Kip Fagan- this is a tricky piece to stage, with multiple roles, over-the-top scenes, and an almost fantasy aspect to the dialogue. In the hands of a lesser craftsman, much of it could have been played for laughs alone, but the serious undercurrent of intellectual questioning was never lost. And man… did we laugh!
Tech is also to be praised here: the set by Misha Kachman is a wonderment (particularly in that second act – now, aren’t you curious to see it? Hope there are still tickets), as well as Projections Designer Jared Mezzocchi’s glorious projections; the costumes by Ivania Stack will make you fall over laughing (again, second act: nope, not gonna say a word).
WOMEN LAUGHING ALONE WITH SALAD
Part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival
September 7 – October 4, 2015
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
641 D St NW
Washington, DC 20004
2 hours, 15 minutes with 1 intermission
Wednesdays thru Sundays
Tickets: $53 – $68
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one thing: this isn’t for kids, adolescents, or the sexually squeamish- lots of four letter words abound (and some five and six letter words too, the playwright has a pretty good vocab) and there’s a fairly graphic sex scene- though as staged sex scenes go, it’s nearly as funny as the real thing usually is.
So, in conclusion: did I mention at any time that I am a woman who kinda hasn’t liked a lot of feminist theatre in the past? To be honest, it’s often been a dreary slog as we follow some broad through her inevitable realization that Society Has It In For Her And She Is Doomed. Speaking candidly, I don’t normally feel all that doomed on an everyday basis unless I have to watch feminist theatre with that cliched viewpoint.
But this fresh, funny play is the poster child for what feminist theatre should be: a great night out on the town watching a slambam comedy which is also a serious conversation about the society we oh-so-currently live in.
Look at that: it turns out you can have your cake and salad too.
Women Laughing Alone with Salad by Sheila Callaghan . Directed by Kig Fagan . Featuring Kimberly Gilbert, Meghan Reardon, Janet Ulrich Brooks and Thomas Keegan . Set Design: Misha Kachman . Costume Design: Ivania Stack . Lighting Design: Colin BIlls . Sound Design: Palmer Hefferan . Video Design: Jared Mezzocchi . Fight Choreographer: Joe Isenberg . ChoreographerL Melanie George . Dramaturg: Kirsten Bowen . Stage Manager: Kristy Matero . Produced by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company . Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.