Review: Women Laughing Alone With Salad (Theater Wit)

| March 25, 2018

Daniella Pereira, Echaka Agba and Japhet Balaban star as Tori, Meredith and Guy            
      

  

Women Laughing
   Alone with Salad

Written by Sheila Callaghan
Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map)
thru May 12  |  tix: $19-$70  |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets   
     


     Now extended thru May 12

  

Talented cast and director, inspired sound design
can’t save shoddy script

  

Echaka Agba, Daniella Pereira and Jennifer Engstrom star in Women Laughing Alone With Salad

    
Theater Wit presents
    
Women Laughing Alone with Salad

Review by Lauren Whalen

It’s difficult to make a play based solely on a popular stock photo image turned Internet meme. That’s exactly what Women Laughing Alone With Salad tries, and fails, to do. Sheila Callaghan’s script is publicized as a “feminist comedy,” but it’s hard to see what’s feminist about girl-on-girl hate, an overwhelmingly male point of view and a borderline incoherent storyline. Director Devon de Mayo and the cast Echaka Agba, Japhet Balaban and Daniella Pereira star as Meredith, Guy and Torido their very best, but Women Laughing Alone With Salad is, like iceberg lettuce and wilted veggies, utterly unsatisfying.

For the uninitiated, “woman laughing alone with salad” is a category of stock photos featuring just that. Several years ago it became an Internet meme and spawned a discussion about how women are expected to be everything and nothing, all at once. Playwright Callaghan attempts to parlay this into a full-length play, in which Guy (Japhet Balaban) attempts to understand the women around him. His mother Sandy (Jennifer Engstrom), a former activist, now relies on increasingly sadistic beauty treatments to maintain her youthful visage. Meanwhile, Guy’s girlfriend Tori (Daniella Pereira) is obsessed with brunch, yoga and moving to LA, while never eating more than a leaf of lettuce at a time. And then there’s Meredith (Echaka Agba), a confident and healthy woman Guy just met at a club…

If you’re wondering what’s feminist about the above, you’re not alone. Only Meredith has any sort of nuance whatsoever, and the rest of the characters are alarmingly cliché. Most of these characters only appear in the first act, and the second is even worse, relying on cheap jokes and insufferable navel-gazing to convey a nonexistent point. Callaghan clearly wanted to write a satire, ignoring that satire is incredibly difficult to do well, and at times it’s unclear when she’s trying to be genuine. (Women Laughing Alone doesn’t work as a dark comedy, either.) Only a few moments – the inspired opening salad-eating sequence, as well as a later moment with an awkward threesome moment – made me laugh out loud. The rest had me shaking my head and wondering when it would all end.

Japhet Balaban, Echaka Agba, Daniella Pereira and Jennifer Engstrom star in Women Laughing Alone With SaladJennifer Engstrom and Japhet Balaban star as Sandy and Guy in Women Laughing Alone With Salad Daniella Pereira, Echaka Agba and Japhet Balaban star as Tori, Meredith and Guy at Theater WitEchaka Agba, Daniella Pereira and Jennifer Engstrom star in Women Laughing Alone With Salad, Theater Wit

Director de Mayo is clearly all in, and her dedication shows in every production and staging choice. She does her absolute best with the shoddy source material, playing the laughs for all they are worth and getting excellent performers out of her actors. Shain Longbehn’s sound design is inspired, with faux-empowering and guilty pleasure girl power pop anthems, and intimacy designer Rachel Flesher does an excellent job with the play’s sexual content.

All four actors are absolutely fantastic, committing thoroughly to this ridiculous mess of a play and extracting all the humanity and humor they can. The ever-brilliant Agba generates empathy as underdog Meredith, and Engstrom has the vain New York woman caricature down pat. Pereira does a beautiful job as Tori, a woman so shallow and unlikable it’s almost funny. A better play would have explored the facets of each of these women, without the needlessly dumb perspective of the man who ties them together. Woman Laughing Alone With Salad does its best, but Callaghan’s good idea just doesn’t pan out to a full-length comic satire.

  
Rating: ★★½
  

Women Laughing Alone with Salad continues through April 29th May 12th at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $19-$70, and are available by phone (773-975-8150) or online through their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at TheaterWit.org(Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes, includes an intermission. Note: This play contains nudity and graphic discussions of sex.)

Daniella Pereira, Echaka Agba and Japhet Balaban star as Tori, Meredith and Guy

Photos by Charles Osgood


  

artists

cast

Echaka Agba (Meredith), Japhet Balaban (Guy), Jennifer Engstrom (Sandy), Daniella Pereira (Tori)

Understudies: Jon Beal, Anna Donnell, Francesca Sobrer, Danielle Zuckerman

behind the scenes

Devon de Mayo (director), Arnel Sancianco (scenic design), Heather Gilbert (lighting design), Shain Longbehn (sound design), Jesse Gaffney (prop design), Joseph A. Burke (projection design), Mieka van der Ploeg (costume design), Rachel Flesher (intimacy design), Regina Victor (dramaturg), Clare Cooney (casting), Charles Osgood (photos)

Echaka Agba and Japhet Balaban star as Meredity and Guy in Women Laughing Alone With SaladJaphet Balaban and Echaka Agba star as Guy and Meredith in Women Laughing Alone With Salad

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Category: 2018 Reviews, Extensions-Remounts, Farce, Lauren Emily Whalen, Theater Wit, Theater Wit

Comments (1)

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  1. Thanks for your review, Lauren. I just perused some of your work as well!! (I’m on a script deadline and have a habit of tormenting myself by reading reviews of my plays on writing breaks.) One thing I particularly enjoyed is a comment from your review of “The Humans:

    “Leaving the play’s opening night performance in Chicago, I heard several audience members saying, ‘I don’t get it.’ I respectfully disagree: I got it, and then some.”

    I want to congratulate you for “getting” the play, and then for boasting about it! How wonderful that you are able to comprehend a mainstream Broadway drama about a dysfunctional family written by a dude–something we don’t often see in our American theatre. And your bravery as you publicly disagree with “several audience members” is admirable.

    I also appreciate your willingness to educate your readers about your preferences, as you do in the same review:

    “The Humans doesn’t make a grand statement. It just is, and therein lies the genius.” Thank you for alerting your readers to the notion that you appreciate plays which do not make grand statements. It’s refreshing to hear a critic declare such a startling opinion with such vigor.

    Good luck in your future endeavors, and thanks again for your thoughts on plays.

    -sc