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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

There's a lot of self-loathing going on at Center Theater Group right now . . . well, at least on two of their stages.

A couple of weeks ago, I told you about the oddly homophobic play at the Taper, The Mystery of Love and Sex. A play that ends with a gay wedding, sort of, but whose heroine spends most of the play hating herself.

Well, now at the Kirk Douglas Theater, CTG adds to this self-loathing festival with Sheila Callaghan's new play Women Laughing Alone with Salad.

To be fair the play is meant to be satire (at least I hope it is). Sadly, the bulk of the play can be summed up by saying that Ms. Callaghan doesn't like women to be forced to, or for that matter, want to eat salads. She presents salads as something that an unseen patriarchy, possibly a drug company or advertising agency, is forcing on women along with completely destructive expectations about body image, sex, and screwed up gender roles in general.

The trouble is, to borrow a totally inappropriate pun from the play itself, the script's a little too thin and feels less like a play and more like a set of sketches or rough ideas that have been crammed into two over-produced hours.

We follow Guy, who's a spoiled aspiring writer in New York. He has a shallow Oedipal fixation with his mother who's an ex-women's lib activist who gave up everything to have him and then left his father after a series of flings. Guy hates his mother and himself -- but clearly can't escape either. So he dates Tori who's bulimic and way too thin and has no real desire of her own other than to maybe move to LA and do yoga. She also hates herself. And Guy hates her. Cut to Meredith dancing in a club while Guy stares at her ass. Meredith doesn't seem like the kind of woman who eats salads. She, in the verbiage of the play, is full figured and has a great rack. Oh, and she's black and kind of slutty. Naturally, Guy would like to take her home and have a threesome with his too thin girlfriend.

This being a 'hip' play that naturally happens.

And then, for no really good reason, salad falls from the sky. This is slightly less jarring as an audience member because several scenes earlier we've seen Meredith do a faux striptease out of a costume of oversized leaves of romaine - again somewhat inscrutably beyond the premise that Ms. Callaghan has as troubled a relationship with greens as her character Guy does with women.

This is only Act One. In Act Two, everyone performs in drag so that the only vaguely self-confident female character, a sort of pastiche of Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer, can be played by a man in drag rather than an actual female.

It's all a flashy mess. The actors feel lost, the production's overwrought, the language vulgar without actually having any real bite and the outlook grimmer than the presidential primaries.

Other than that it's a fun show.

Women Laughing Alone with Salad plays at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City through April 3.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain for KCRW.


Running time: Two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.

Photo: (L-R) David Clayton Rogers (background), Dinora Z. Walcott and Nora Kirkpatrick in Women Laughing Alone with Salad (Craig Schwartz)

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