Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Also see Bill's review of Gloria
Women Laughing Alone with Salad has four characters, three women and one man, in a wild lively first act which tests the limits of Urbanite's tiny playing space in a positive way. Projections are an integral part of the piece, with three large video screens on the wall I was facing and I am guessing ditto on the opposite side behind me, and one huge video screen on the back wall. Each of these screens often hold varied versions of the same graphic, different light mixes, all kinds of variations. Two oval, florescent light pieces change the coloration of the stage in a different way than regular stage lighting does. Scenic design is five pieces that cleverly configure multiple ways and there are two sets of costumes, one for each act, which are fairly lavish. All of this feels like a budget stretch for this company which can only seat 70 for its best configuration, seating wise.
The first act centers around Guy, a 20-something pretty much emotionally at sea, at least regarding women. He interacts with three women: his girlfriend Tori; Meredith, a woman he lusts after in a bar; and his mother. There is graphic talk about sex and some graphic sexual images on stage. This play is a fine fit for Urbanite's edgier sensibility. During most of this act I found myself mostly baffled regarding what I was seeing and completely drawn to a woman on the other side of the theater who was laughing at many moments and seemed to be "getting it" in ways I feared I was not.
The second act takes us to a completely different world, the only carryover being a grown-up, mature Guy, 14 years down the road of a corporate career. To tell the rest would giving potential audience members more than they want to know going in.
Ben Williamson is remarkable as Guy and startling in the second act. He seems to make a specialty of playing these cocky, often confused young things (Isaac in Isaac's Eye at this theater and in Sex with Strangers at American Stage). Summer Wallace, Co-artistic Director of Urbanite, has the showiest of the three female roles, the lusty and lusted after Meredith. Ms. Wallace has been seen in a wide variety of parts, both at this theater and Asolo Conservatory, always to good effect. I think this is her best performance, which is not in any way meant to diminish her past work. Vicki Daignault is Sandy, Guy's mother. She also is extraordinarily effective in defining a character that is very hard to figure out. Annabelle Mayock is Tori, the girlfriend, capturing the character's out of focus self-esteem as well as her desire to pull back when the Merediths of the world blast out.
Women Laughing Alone with Salad really belongs to director Ria Cooper. Not only has she pulled sensational performances from her entire cast, but she has brought a clear physicality to the show where it is decidedly needed. I completely believe that the success of the production derives from her direction. All of the important technical elements, costumes by Frank Chavez, scenic design by Jeff Webber, Ryan E. Finzelber's extraordinarily lighting and Rew Tipton's sound design, contribute mightily.
Women Laughing Alone with Salad is a play that will have its strongest appeal to younger audiences. It is one of Urbanite's most successfully realized productions, bigger, bolder and highly theatrical. For someone who loves theater as much as I do, that is more than enough reason to see it. For younger hipper audiences, I suspect it is not to be missed.
Women Laughing Alone with Salad, through May 6, 2018, at Urbanite Theatre, 1487 2nd St., Sarasota FL. Visit www.urbanitetheatre.com for more information.