ONSTAGE Sheila Callaghan appreciates a good meme. Several friends, knowing this, sent her the notorious one of “Women Laughing Alone with Salad,” after the blog Hairpin highlighted stock photos of women who looking awfully happy with their bowls of greens. 

Callaghan found the meme stuck with her, and she kept thinking about how people use images like these to sell products—and about the idealized version of women who need nothing but a salad to delight them. The things that occupy her mind are what she ends up writing about, so she wrote a play, titled after the meme, now at Shotgun Players (through November 11) in Berkeley. 

Before writing Women Laughing Alone with Salad, which explores gender roles, sexism, and marketing—memorable lines include “I’m sorry I let you ass-rape me. It won’t happen again”—Callaghan wrote three monologues, imagining what the women eating the salad were thinking. Then she decided she needed to look at a man’s perspective as well.

“I started wondering who was projecting this ideal female,” she said. “It’s fun to talk about who’s getting affected, but it’s interesting to talk about the people who are doing the affecting.”

Callaghan has written more than 20 other plays, founded The Kilroys company (“We Make Trouble and Plays” is the motto), and also writes for TV, including the Showtime comedy Shameless. She wrote Women Laughing Alone with Salad when Obama was in office: With the current administration, she says the play feels different. 

Callaghan says she used to have a lot of empathy for men who felt like they’d been promised things, only to have them taken away. After the Senate hearings on accused attempted rapist Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, that empathy has mostly dried up. She says that, sadly, she wasn’t surprised by Kavanaugh’s reaction in the hearings.  

“He acted shocked,” she said. “Women have to be 100 different kinds of women to be successful, and men only have to be one kind—assertive and dominant.”

She’s gotten complicated responses from people seeing the play, Callaghan says, and she’s not sure how people will react to it now with the current administration, and what she describes as a kind of cultural rage.

“A lot of people are so angry. I’m definitely one of them. And a lot of people are confused. And I’m one of them, too,” she said. “This is tricky because there’s this giant public figure enacting his worst self on women and feeling baffled by the response.”

That feeling of bafflement is what Callaghan wanted to understand when she wrote the play. Now, she says, she’s less interested in understanding. 

“If I were writing it now, I’m not sure I would bother with the empathy part,” she said. “I’ve been rewriting it, and my empathy has gotten smaller. Indictment has gotten bigger. It’s hard to tell because I’m so close to it, but now it feels a little more pointed.”

WOMEN LAUGHING ALONE WITH SALAD
Through November 11
Shotgun Players, Berkeley 
Tickets and more info here