'Smell of the Kill' is a play for women

By FREDERICK M. WINSHIP  |  April 9, 2002 at 11:48 AM
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NEW YORK, April 9 (UPI) -- Playwright Michele Lowe is making her Broadway debut with "The Smell of the Kill," a play some women will love and most men will hate.

The brief black comedy at the Helen Hayes Theater is about three young women in suburban Wilmette, Ill., who are relegated to the kitchen while their good ole' boy husbands, once college roommates, play their monthly boozy game of parlor golf in the living room. These gals pass the time by gossiping, drinking, and whipping up yummy desserts for their men.

The hostess of the month, Nicky, is having a problem with her spendthrift financier husband, Jay, who has been indicted for embezzlement and wants her to give up her job as a book editor so he can use the profit-sharing exit money she will get to pay for his expensive lawyers.

Meanwhile, he keeps spending money on such unnecessary items as an expensive walk-in freezer for preserving deer and other wildlife he hunts.

Debra and Molly can commiserate with Nicky because she's having it tough. After all, their marriages are happy ones, aren't they? Well, not quite. It comes out that Debra's real estate agent husband, Marty, is two-timing her with a rapacious female client who has "The Cobra" for a nickname, and Molly's obsessively attentive husband, Danny, won't have sex with her because she is dying to have a child he doesn't want.

What to do? Well, why not cover golf balls that keep flooding into the kitchen whenever the boys come to the door for a beer with meringue and pass them off as the dessert of the evening? It seems like a cute idea until another solution offers itself when they hear repeated tappings on the kitchen floor from the basement beneath where the freezer has just been installed.

Jay apparently has been showing off his new prize possession to Marty and Danny and inadvertently locks the three of them inside. As the tappings get fainter, their wives must decide whether to try to rescue them or call the police. But Nicky has another idea.

Why not let them freeze to death?

Molly falls in with the plan enthusiastically but Debra has to be persuaded. Won't their husbands begin to thaw, or will they be difficult to thaw and have to be buried in a frozen lump in a mass grave? Debra says there are a lot of drawbacks to be considered, but in the end she agrees this is as good a way as any to get revenge on her unfaithful spouse.

Two of Broadway's veteran producers, Elizabeth I. McCann and Nelle Nugent, have come out of virtual retirement to put "The Smell of the Kill" on the stage. They apparently found it a laugh a minute, and many in the audience of which this critic was a member did also -- mostly women. Men were observed to be making occasional choking sounds that might pass for a forced chortle.

There are some terrific one-liners in this show, and it has an overall tone of monumental and mesmerizing perversity summed up by the 18th-century British dramatist, William Congreve, when he wrote "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned." But it's a one-joke comedy that wears out its welcome long before its 80 minutes, brief for Broadway, is up. A long run is not predicted.

That does not mean to say there isn't some terrific acting to be enjoyed on another level.

Claudia Shear gives a believable, three-dimensional performance as Debra, the only one of the trio who realizes the inhumanity of what they are doing and suffers moral qualms, however briefly. We would expect no less of an actress whose own one-woman play, "Blown Sideways Through Life," was such an Off-Broadway delight and whose Mae West in "Dirty Blonde" was a Broadway hit a season past.

Lisa Emery is fine as the deeply angry, razor-tongued Nicky to whom qualms are an alien commodity. She is far more recognizable as a contemporary woman than Jessica Stone in the caricature role of Molly, a self-involved child-woman who doesn't seem to grasp any idea on an adult level.

The men in the play, who are heard but not seen, are Patrick Garner as Danny and Marty and Mark Lotito as Jay. Talk about thankless roles!

Director Christopher Ashley, fresh from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," is, as always, resourceful in his staging within the confines of David Gallo's marvelously modern kitchen with its deep perspective and overhead oculus window. David C. Woolard's costumes include some sexy lingerie the women wear under their ordinary Gap-style clothes, apparently as a symbol of their sisterhood.

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