Meme-themed feminist’s dream screams into Chicago theater scene


Courtesy Theater Wit

“Women Laughing Alone with Salad,” opening March 23 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., takes the classic stock image meme and turns it on its head. 

By Mayan Darbyshire

Audiences, prepare to be challenged with the Chicago premiere of “Women Laughing Alone with Salad,” a feminist deconstruction of a popular internet meme put to stage. 

The play began previews March 9 with an official opening March 23 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. The play, written by Sheila Callaghan, satirically confronts society’s expectations of women at a time when the issues are on everybody’s mind. 

“It was written before the Me Too movement,” said Devon de Mayo, the play’s director. “It was written to identify a huge problem in society, which is how we treat women’s issues around body image and influence their levels of confidence and hold them back in terms of their professional life and social status.” 

De Mayo will be the first woman to direct this play in theaters and said she admires Theater Wit for its bravery in producing it.

“I’ve had a long relationship with Sheila Callaghan,” de Mayo said. “I’ve known her and her work for over a decade and I know how risky it is to produce. It’s exciting [Theater Wit] wanted to dedicate the time and resources to doing this play, something that needed to be produced urgently and with a lot of gusto.” 

Jeremy Wechsler, artistic director of Theater Wit, said the play was near perfect for the theater’s mission to find plays that win audiences over with logic and argument rather than the melodrama of emotion.

This process starts at the box office. To correct for Illinois’ 79 percent gender wage gap, male-identifying patrons are expected to pay 21 percent more than their female-identifying counterparts. This decision, Wechsler said, was made to challenge the audience to consider their role in the play’s issues. 

One of the play’s key themes is complicity, Wechsler said, and Theater Wit wants it to be considered the moment patrons step into the theater.

“In this mess that we built for ourselves culturally, who’s owning it and who’s participating in it? The answer the play gives is ‘everybody,’” Wechsler said. 

In casting for the play, Casting Director Clare Cooney said she was faced with a unique challenge: having to find people who fit certain body types, as body image is an important aspect of the play.

“We want to make sure we’re casting real people, not stereotypes,” Cooney said, “but this show, to some extent, confronts a lot of different female stereotypes, so we needed people that were able to fit these different stereotypes, but then turn the table on what you think these women are.”

The play is equal parts scene and production driven, de Mayo said, and it takes serious coordination between the cast and design team. At one point, thousands of pieces of lettuce fall from the sky, an effect that took hours of intricate work to create. 

“It’s a heavily designed show, and it’s a show in which everybody is leaning on each other to make any moment successful,” de Mayo said.