Williamston Theatre’s production of Our Lady of Poison is dramatic theatre full of twists and turns providing an entertaining escape from this dreary winter weather. Audiences will laugh, cry and ponder what they would do for love while watching the dynamic relationship between mother and daughter unfold. This play offers beautiful and heartbreaking characters, the importance of family and a truly thought-provoking tale based on historical events.
The script, by Joseph Zettelmaier is a poignant and witty story set in 1659, Rome, Italy. It centers around Giulia Tofana, and her daughter, Girolama, beloved apothecaries that are also skilled poisoners. For decades, this notorious underground operation offers unfortunate wives with an escape from flawed marriages hosted by this real life mother and daughter team. A new client, the young bride of a nobleman is in desperate need of their help. An unexpected romance ensues and this very love threatens to destroy the life Giulia has built for her family. How far would you go for love, those who need help and to protect your family?
This World Premiere is directed by Shannon Ferrante in her Williamston Theatre debut. Ferrante is a current Chicago resident who is looking forward to moving home to Michigan soon. Ferrante has known Tony Caselli, Williamston’s Artistic Director, for years and is excited to bring her experience to Williamston. She is enthused about the script, cast and crew for this production and delighted to be working with Zettelmaier for the 8th or 9th time. Our Lady of Poison cast features Dani Cochrane (Summer Retreat) as Girolama, Janet Haley (13 seasons with Michigan Shakespeare Festival) as Giulia and Maeyson Menzel (Williamston Theatre Debut) as Daniella.
Ferrante explains how the casting was an extensive process that started over a year ago with general auditions and call-backs. Williamston Theatre features this World Premiere production in collaboration with Michigan State University and over fifty students auditioned last October for the role of Daniella. Menzel was a bit of a surprise to Ferrante being new to the MSU program, however her audition really stood out and offered the perfect dynamic to the role making an easy the casting decision.
The director and cast are truly excited about the story and their first reactions to the script. Menzel exclaims, “I just fell in love with the plot line and I never thought I would get to be part of such an incredible story. I think the topics that it talks about are really relevant and important.” Cochrane states, “What struck me is these strong female relationships. The relationship between a mother and daughter and between women. It was really impactful to me as a woman with most stories being more male centric.” Haley adds, “One of the questions I think the play asks, is how can love help define what is right or wrong. How we love someone shapes what we will do, with good conscience or not. How love makes it be okay because it is in service of love that you have for that person that you are willing to do whatever is necessary to help them. How love shapes morality.” Ferrante summarizes, “I was so excited. I love working with women in theatre. I jump at any chance to work with an all female cast. I also love working with Joe. The other thing is just this mother and daughter relationship. There are a couple different love stories that happen in the play, but to me, the main one is the love between a mother and daughter. I don’t think that is explored super often, in art. It is kind of this forgotten relationship because it is usually really complicated and full of a lot of emotion so I was really excited to take that on.” Ferrante is expecting her first child, a girl, and that has made this theatre experience that much richer for her.
A World Premiere offers the director, playwright and cast a unique collaboration opportunity that can be full of change. Ferrante shares, “We’ve done a lot of shaping the relationship between the mother and daughter and we made some cuts so the script use to be a little bit longer.” Ferrante has really enjoyed working at Williamston Theatre for the first time and developing a show with strong female characters in her home state. Ferrante explains, “It has been such a joy to be back in the Michigan theatre community; I’ve really missed it. It has been just so rewarding to be working with these artists and Williamston is just a really supportive theatre.”
When discussing the production and the characters, the camaraderie and enthusiasm is contagious with this team. The entire cast loves the strength of these extraordinary women characters and their relationships. The exploration of the different types of love is rewarding and the mother daughter relationship is uncommon in theatre allowing the actors to enjoy focusing on an overlooked relationship. Ferrante shares her favorite thing, “I love what an ensemble cast it is. It is the daughters story but Joe has written it in a way that each of the actors has their own journey that they go on. That is always fun to work on in a show where is not just about this one story but it is all these different stories and how they converge together.”
Williamston Theatre showcases a hauntingly beautiful set illustrating the apothecary. It feels authentic with glass bottles and drawers storing spices for all the makings of a “potion”. Of course, there is a mortar and pestle in full view. The image of Saint Nicholas offers special meaning on this set, bottles of poison disguised as holy water. It is certainly an interesting twist to have a male image hanging above where these women work—ending many lives of men. Favorite elements not to be missed are the fountain with running water on stage and the period costumes which are fantastic and transport you to another era.
Audiences will enjoy the twist on historical events; historical fiction based on real life people, facts and events. Williamston Theatre’s take on a period piece is unique, enchanting and the perfect night out. It is enthralling and shocking to watch the depth of the mother daughter relationship, the different love stories unravel, the plot twists and turns while the characters struggle with how far to go for justice, protection of those you love while remaining true to who you are. Audiences will be on the edge of their seats and wonder what decision they would make in a similar circumstance. Don’t miss checking out the show by ordering your tickets here.