Grammar matters in the title of Pinky Swear Productions’ newest play. As a verb, the “killing” in “Killing Women” is misogynistic snuff, but as an adjective, it creates murderesses.
“We certainly got a couple of people who were like, really? It’s sort of a play on words — killing women vs. killing women,” said Karen Lange, co-artistic director of Pinky Swear. “A lot of our audience, like our fans, recognize that we’re going to pick things that are a little edgy.”
Because Pinky Swear is a theater company dedicated to works with strong female roles, the edgier choice here is the present participle: The play is about a trio of hired female assassins. Marisa Wegrzyn’s black comedy examines the corporate ladder in a workplace so competitive that it’s kill or be killed.
The play stars Lange as the sophisticated killer Lucy, who takes out her hits with injections. Fellow co-artistic director Allyson Harkey plays Abby, who may have hit the glass ceiling in the assassin business unless she can turn meek housewife Gwen (Allison Galen) into a fellow hired gun.
Though the play is about three women, Pinky Swear doesn’t want it to be characterized as a “women’s play.”
“It’s so funny to me because had the play been ‘Killing Men,’ and there had been three men in the lead roles, no one would have been like, ‘This is about men’s issues,’ ” said director Jessica Aimone. “It’s all stuff that anyone can relate to . . . It’s more about, ‘My job is so frustrating.’ Well, everyone can relate to that.”
Likewise, though female assassins are an established archetype, from the biblical Judith to the Bride in the “Kill Bill” movies, Harkey emphasized that none of the characters in the show are a caricature or a sketch. There are three men in the cast, too, who play six roles total.
“This isn’t a play about women — this is a play about one woman doing this one thing, and another woman doing this other thing,” she said. “They’re specific characters, they’re not supposed to be representative of women in general.”
Pinky Swear is young, founded in 2009 by Harkey and Lange for the Fringe Festival, with an original company of five female actors. Although their 2011 Fringe show, “Cabaret XXX,” was named best musical, Pinky Swear has had only a few shows during the regular theatrical season.
The company has been saving this play for the right occasion.
“Interestingly, a man gave it to us,” said Harkey, giving credit to Marcus Kyd from Taffety Punk. “We immediately fell in love with it. It’s hard for us to find scripts that not only have a lot of strong female characters but also match our aesthetic and our sense of humor, and are something we like reading.”
The company members researched assassins, taking a trip to the International Spy Museum and doing plenty of reading about the various ways that professionals can kill without leaving a trace. They’ve also planned to go to a gun range to practice before the show opens. While the play sounds bloody, most of the killing takes place offstage — and their fake guns use silencers.
They are planning to put their research to use not just in the show but also in “The Assassin’s Playground,” interactive displays in the theater that will let audience members learn about assassinations and play “pin the needle on the victim” in a “carnival of death.”
“We’ve created a full experience from the lobby to the show,” said Lange, so that the audience can “come into the world of the play a little bit.”
“Killing Women” comes at a cultural crossroads. Pop culture has been saturated with tough female heroines lately, from Lisbeth Salander in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” to Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games.”
So the audience “can go and see a show heavily driven by female characters and not walk out feeling that it is a feminist statement,” Lange said.
“If they walk out feeling like it’s a feminist statement, I’m okay with that too,” said Harkey.
But as we see tough women on-screen, the first quarter of the year has been filled with political assaults on women’s issues, enough for talking heads to declare a “war on women.” It has been a serious catalyst for the cast.
“There is a lot of rage in our theater company about this sudden focus on women’s traditional roles,” Lange said. “There’s a lot of motivation for having a show and having characters that own themselves and own their feelings, their bodies, their motivations — not actually being under the thumb of a guy, of proving one’s worth.”
Besides, thinking about their political struggle gives their man-killing characters heft, Lange added. “There’s something tremendously satisfying about having some motivations to think about while murdering someone offstage,” she said. “We use a stand-in of any of those folks saying we should dial back history and dial back what we’ve fought for.”
begins previews Wednesday and opens Saturday at Spooky Action Theater, 1810 16th St. NW. $20. Through May 12. www.pinkyswear-productions.com.