In 2013, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Deborah Blum wrote an article for Wired magazine titled “The Imperfect Myth of the Female Poisoner” that dispelled the persistent cultural assumption that, as far as murder methods go, homicides-by-poisoning are inherently ladylike. “It’s not, you see, that poison is a woman’s weapon,” says Blum. “It’s that it is an evil one.” And yet, dubiously sourced in historical criminology as they may be, there’s something wickedly satisfying and elegantly badass about artistic depictions of women dispensing revenge with perfume-like vials of death.
In that respect, in this 90-minute dark dramedy set in 17th century Paris, playwright Dusty Wilson has his cake and eats it too, indulging in a fantasy of outlaw women paving their own way while also wrestling with the gender and class-based roles that permit justice for some while dooming others. A talented chemist (Carina Lastimosa) and her tarot-card-reading lover (Lynnette Li) create a cottage industry helping wealthy women murder their plutocrat husbands. Christina Casano’s production for The Plagiarists keeps the grisly consequences of its protagonists’ actions at arm’s length for the most part, focusing instead on their justifications and nights spent spritzing toxic plants in a sparse but romantic hamlet tucked on the outskirts of society. A framing device featuring an interrogator (Bryan Breau) doesn’t quite reach the emotional contrasts Casano and company seem to be aiming for, but there’s some decent fun to be had with a flamboyant rival poisoner (Julia Stemper) and a naive woman of leisure (Brittani Yawn). v