China Clark's Women Who Kill tells the story of an assassin and the women she accuses of committing heinous acts morally equivalent to murder.
In the recent production at Shadowbox Theatre, Valentine Pierce played the killer, Ivory McQueen, with intensity and poise. Pierce is African-American and racial conflicts are central to the plot. McQueen had a down-and-out childhood with an alcoholic mother and an abusive father. In biographical monologues, she slips into street slang from her days working as a prostitute and also quotes Aristotle. The erudite flourishes lead us to one of the categories of women McQueen hates: white teachers. "They kill our black children by intentionally denying them an education and throwing them out onto the streets to sell their asses," she fumes.
Once out of school, McQueen becomes a prostitute, which gets her associated with the mafia, to which she is required to pay 10 percent of her earnings for "protection." She and mafia member Vinnie Russo (Burton Tedesco) fall in love. Another mafia enforcer insists on receiving oral sex in addition to the money, and McQueen slits his throat. The murder of a "family" member presents Russo with a problem, so de takes McQueen to the Godfather's hideaway and after a short interrogation she's accepted into the organization as a hit man. McQueen says she never killed anyone who didn't have it coming.
McQueen is not just telling us these incriminating details. She's being interviewed by a journalist (Diana Shortes). A camera person (Jo Custer) is video taping the interview and we see the shots on TV screens hanging over the set. McQueen has agreed to the interview on the condition that her daughter, who is charged with assassinating New York's mayor, be freed. If not, McQueen will reveal the 60 murders she's committed.
As McQueen tells her story, some of her victims enter, including Gen. McAdoo (Carlos Gonzalez), a Costa Rican dictator, and bigoted Sen. McGreedy (Daniel Schubert-Skelly). McQueen recounts the elaborate ruses she used to kill many of her victims.
Finally, we meet Sealy Kramer (Claudia Baumgarten), the teacher responsible for much of McQueen's rage. Kramer has a slight German accent and racial prejudices informed by Nazism. She recognized McQueen was a prodigy and intentionally sabotaged her schooling.
The plot is intricate, and the willing suspension of disbelief is at times woefully tested. The racial justifications for some of the murders are somewhat strained. In any case, the dialogue is well written and the acting, persuasive. There are some long monologues, but director Ed Bishop kept things moving. — Dalt Wonk