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Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Apr. 11, 2018 3 years ago

'Women Laughing Alone with Salad' serves up gender politics sans croutons

Urbanite Theatre's latest play may seem like a feminist sermon from the description, but in actuality it runs like a series of edgy comedy sketches.
by: Marty Fugate Contributor

A cool comedy can be like a wild roller coaster ride. Sheila Callaghan’s “Woman Laughing Alone with Salad” is something else again. It’s more like taking a drive with an entertaining but unstable friend who abandons you in a strange part of town and drives away, laughing insanely.

This is not a safe play, folks. But it deals with a serious issue …

Salad porn.

No, seriously. You heard me correctly.

Salad porn.

It’s a real thing. And it’s a marketing thing.

It seems there are vast libraries of videos and stock photos of drop-dead gorgeous young women enjoying, well, salad. And enjoying it far too much. On an erotic level, you might say …

Curious readers can do a search on Google Images. I’ll wait …

See? That’s what I’m talking about.

The world of marketing is not only stranger than you imagine — it’s stranger than you can imagine.

Callaghan stumbled across these images on a feminist website. That planted the seed of the idea for her play. Which tries to answer the obvious question …

Why create salad porn in the first place?

The play revolves around two sets of characters, who switch gender roles in the second act.

Sandy (Vickie Daignault): A feminist crusader of the 1970s who turns into a Stepford Wife conformist who lets piranhas nibble off her fingers. Why? (“A woman’s hands are the first sign of age!”) No hands, no problem. Got it.

Guy (Benjamin Williamson): Sandy’s mamma’s boy son. Your typical trust fund baby looking for a replacement mommy in all the wrong places. Who knows, at a core level, he’s not really a man.

Tori (Annabelle Mayock): Guy’s girlfriend — a super-skinny waif who actually survives on dressing-free salad, although she doesn’t laugh. She’d soak up sunshine and live by photosynthesis if she could.

Meredith (Summer Dawn Wallace): Guy’s fling — a zaftig earth mother straight out of a naughty R. Crumb comic. A real woman with curves who hasn’t been brainwashed into hating herself. Yet.

Annabelle Mayock plays a woman with bulimia who is dating Benjamin Williamson's character. Photo by Dylan Jon Wade Cox

Rounding out the cast are two modern day Mad Men (Maycock and Wallace in drag) who target millennial women with an ad campaign designed to make them pop a pill called “Effervatol.” The campaign revolves around a trove of images of … women laughing alone with salad. What else did you expect?

Alice (a cross-dressing Williamson): A female marketing executive who hasn’t sold out. And won’t let her employees do it, either.

Great performances all around.

As to what these characters actually do? Well. The plot’s as thin as a diet salad, so let’s skip the summary. Callaghan’s play resembles a series of edgy comedy sketches, or a fever dream. It’s a wild ride with no clear narrative arc.

Callaghan puts the aforementioned characters through bizarre permutations. You’ll laugh your head off, then abruptly get creeped out. The action alternates between realism (sharp character studies) and weird scenes (of murder and mutilation) that’d give Salvador Dali nightmares while spinning in his grave. If there’s an edge, the playwright jumps over it. If there’s a line, she crosses it. She goes too far. And then some.

Consider that a trigger warning. It’s a smart, funny play, don’t get me wrong. But it’s also a very dirty play.

R-rated? Yes, indeed.

If you’ve seen “Team America World Police,” that’s what I’m talking about. There’s a vignette of simulated sex scenes and, ah, nothing too explicit but, ah … You get the idea. If you’re easily shocked, you will be. If you’re not-so easily shocked, you might still get a jolt.

"Women Laughing Alone with Salad" was written by Sheila Callaghan. Photo by Dylan Jon Wade Cox

Consider that another trigger warning.

Callaghan’s vulgar voyage zips along with Ria Cooper’s amped-up direction, Frank Chavez’s occasionally gender-bending costumes, and the plastic Lego world of Jeff Weber’s set. Ryan Finzelber lighting alternates between nightclub seduction and the harsh clarity of a police interrogation room. Daniel Kelly’s cutting-edge video creates a salad bar of disturbingly happy images of … well, you know.

Expect salad, satire and snickering sex gags. Expect food for thought, as well. Callaghan’s low comedy serves high goals. Her play explores the cultural codes of gender-defining body images; how the Marketing Industrial Complex brainwashes women into starving themselves. It shows you the mind-forged manacles that bind men and women alike. Then it tries to pick the locks.

That all may sound like a strident feminist sermon. But it plays like edgy comedy — in the transgressive tradition of Bill Hicks, Lenny Bruce (on the Left) and Matt Stone and Trey Parker (on the Right). If you don’t fear the edge, see this play.

But don’t see it with your Rabbi, Priest, Imam, close relative, or anyone who works for the Wish-Bone Salad Dressing Corporation.

You have been warned.

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