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Review: LA TOFANA'S POISON EMPORIUM at Macha Theatre Works

Review: LA TOFANA'S POISON EMPORIUM at Macha Theatre Works

A killer world premiere.

Review: LA TOFANA'S POISON EMPORIUM at Macha Theatre Works
The cast of La Tofana's Poison Emporium
from Macha Theatre Works.
Photo credit: Joe Iano

A world premiere play, set in the 1650's, that resonates so much with today? That's what we currently have from Macha Theatre Works with their production of "La Tofana's Poison Emporium". While this piece presents an actual murderess/savior from history, it also, deftly correlates to the woes of today and presents them with humor and heart.

Giulia Tofana (Bianca Raso), an average apothecary (except for the fact that she's a woman), has the cures for what ails you. Joint pain, she can handle that. Love potions, she's got you covered. Cheating, abusive husbands? Yeah, she's got something for that too, although it's fairly drastic as that one requires a potion with a pinch of arsenic that will stop your husband from doing you wrong but will also stop him from doing anything. She teaches her teenage daughter Carmela (Ilze Riekstiņš), who's new to the family business, how to make it and that they only prescribe it sparingly. But when Giulia is out one day, Carmela offers it up to the wrong person, opening up a bubbling bottle of trouble that they might not be able to put a stopper in.

Author Joy McCullough has tapped into the real world accounts of Tofana for her inspiration but fills in the story with her own poetic license. And that license seems to have granted her the ability to create a crisp and engaging story filled with a penchant for the hilariously absurd. Her ladies speak of their husbands with 17th century sensibilities but also gossip like 21st century ones, and who know the value of a well placed TV ad. And she manages it to delightful effect with the aid of director Amy Poisson and a killer ensemble (pun intended). And it's that "women aiding women" ideal that's at the heart of this story and what makes it so enjoyable even amidst the abuses and murders. It doesn't hurt that it resonates so much with issues of today like unwanted pregnancies and how many women are trapped in horrible relationships. I'd like to say those topics are a thing of the past but, sadly, they are not.

Review: LA TOFANA'S POISON EMPORIUM at Macha Theatre Works
Bianca Raso and Ilze Riekstiņš in
La Tofana's Poison Emporium from Macha Theatre Works.
Photo credit: Joe Iano

But the ladies of Tofana's Apothecary are here to help. And with this awesome cast, you almost feel like they could solve the issues of today. Raso has incredible stage presence, that you cannot help but hang on her every word. With the swagger and confidence of a pro, she brings the sense of authority to the role that it requires. Which is passed onto Riekstiņš as her daughter who grabs onto the role and gives her a fantastic arc as she goes from petulant teen to wisened businesswoman. Also with a fantastic arc is Melodie Gorow as Violetta, Carmela's childhood rival who's now in need of Tofana's aid. Both of these young ladies tackle these arcs beautifully. And speaking of beautiful, Raso and Riekstiņš break out into a bit of a hymn late in the show to stunning effect. Not sure I understood why they did it but glad they did. Just some incredible voices.

But the entire ensemble brings in some fabulous performances. Lisa Every and Amy Van Mechelen as shop assistants Maria and Laura were both a delight as they continue to throw a little snark on the proceedings. And Alba Davenport and Sydney Maltese manage multiple characters with strength and commitment. Especially Davenport who has a couple of heartbreaking moments as an abused wife.

With a fantastic set and lights from Parmida Ziaei and Dani Norberg and some excellent pacing from Poisson, the show manages to hit on several levels. I will say the ending seems to peter out a bit but it's nothing compared to what comes before. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give "La Tofana's Poison Emporium" a thoughtful and delighted YAY-. Proving that sometimes it's the smaller theaters that bring in some of the most wonderful new stuff.

"La Tofana's Poison Emporium" from Macha Theatre Works performs at West of Lenin through October 29th. For tickets or information, visit them online at

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         Born and raised in Seattle, WA, Jay has been a theater geek for years.  He attends as many shows as he can around the country and loves taking in new exciting... (read more about this author)

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