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A CurtainUp Review
The Smell of the Kill

Every Saturday morning he [husband Jay] goes down there , kill or no kill, just to take a smell. . . Then he comes upstairs and throws me on the bed.
---Nicky, whose husband, an erstwhile vegetarian and bread baker, now gets his thrills from the dead animals he stores in his newly acquired meat locker. That change from love of vegetables to the thirst for venison symbolizes the change in The Smell of the Kill's three modern wives stuck in pre-feminist style marriages.
Lisa Emery, Claudia Shear, Jessica Stone (Photo: Joan Marcus)
When I saw this at the Berkshire Theatre Festival last summer the people in the audience -- the women more than the men, for obvious reasons -- laughed themselves silly. I found myself out of sync with the general response. To me the single gimmick of this seventy-minute play seemed rather lame and sitcom-ish rather than a full-bodied play worthy of the Festival's Main Stage. Now that this play for reasons unfathomable to me has transferred to Broadway, I tested the waters again to see if it had somehow gained depth and substance since I first saw it.

If anything, the Broadway Smell of the Kill seems to have lost rather than gained ground even as the cost for seeing it has risen to twice what it was in Stockbridge. The audience, at least at the press preview I attended, seemed as underwhelmed as I was and Les Gutman, my colleague and companion at the show, thought it rated a worst play of the season nomination. The sporadic bursts of laughter were mostly at the sight gags that seem inserted as sort of automatic laugh prompters.

Except for a change in two-thirds of the cast (the adorable Katie Finneran who is currently in Noises Off was Molly and the estimable Kristen Johnston, Nicky), I could detect no change. Claudia Shear who was the weakest link in the original cast, is more comfortable in her role now, that's not to say that her character has become more likeable and less of a stereotype. Jessica Stone is a fine replacement for Finneran, but Lisa Emery, whose work I've admired enormously in the past, seems completely miscast, adding yet another minus to this play with few pluses.

David Gallo's skewered set fits well into this, one of our smaller Broadway venues, and remains a major visual asset. All this said, the following long quote , from the original review suffices for the current production (the actors listed are the ones in the current production):

"The title refers to the animals hunted by one woman's husband and stored in a meat locker in the basement of their home. But the deer being slain are of the two-footed variety. The three wives in Michelle Lowe's one liner stuffed but not terribly subtle black marital comedy are as trapped in their marriages as any deer hanging on the hook of that freezer. The men whom we never meet, except as brutish and demanding voiceovers (Patrick Garner as the voice of Danny and Marty and Mark Lottitio as the voice of Jay) , don't seem to be much freer, happier or genuinely in touch with themselves or their frozen in adolescence friendship "

"The freezer-owning couple, Jay and Nicky (Lisa Emery), are the hosts for this month's get together of couples whose main bond is that the men went to high school together and that they live in the same suburb. While the men have adjourned to the living room to play golf the women are relegated to the kitchen where the seventy-minute comedy moves to its fantastical denouement. As they clean up the remains of dinner and gossip, the women reveal their different ways of dealing with relationships that turn out to be postmodern versions of the worst of pre-feminist unions."

"Hostess Nicky is the only working mom of the trio. She has come to hate the husband who has been indicted for embezzlement and now wants her to give up the job she loves (she' a book editor with two assistants) so that her pension plan can be used pull them out of their financial and legal troubles.

Debra (Claudia Shear) seems content to have given up her own real estate career to be a perfect stay-at-home wife and mother. Unlike the spunky, outspoken Nicky, Debra has become the perennial doormat -- which hasn't kept husband Marty from regular womanizing. In fact, he now wants to move her out of their home in order to move in his latest paramour. Molly (Jessica Stone), the perennial ingenue (the women all appear to be in their late thirties) seems to be the only one with a still adoring and sweet talking husband. But the overly-possessive, lovey-dovey but sexless relationship (husband Danny is in all likelihood a closeted homosexual), does little for Molly's maternal yearnings. Consequently the little Miss Innocent look-alike is also straining at the marital leash. What's more she is on her fifth affair".

"David Gallo hits a bull's eye with his sleek, skylighted kitchen set; Its skewered perspective embodies all the constraints driving these increasingly enraged women to take advantage of a bizarre window of opportunity to escape to the great blue horizons glimpsed through that oversized skylight. I wish the skewered time frame worked as well as Gallo's kitchen. Unfortunately these 21st Century women seem to belong more in their parents' era than their own which does little to add texture to their story. While the playwright has a deft touch for dialogue, the sum of all the jokes is a rather slight conceit.

I saw and loved Claudia Shear's Dirty Blonde three times (twice with her, and once with another actress-- ). What made it worth the 3x look was the warmth and depth of the characters, the sweetness and realness beneath the surface. Even with this exemplary creative team, once seems more than enough for The Smell of the Kill."

Playwright: Michele Lowe
Directed by Christopher Ashley.
Cast: Claudia Shear, Lisa Emery and Jessica Stone (Voices of Patrick Garner and Lottito)
Set Design: David Gallo
Costume Design: David C. Wollard
Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner
Sound Design: Dan Moses Schreier.
Running Time: 70 minutes without intermission
Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 W. 44th St. (7th/8th Aves) 212/239-6200
From 3/07/02; opening 3/26/02. To an early grave-- 4/28/02-- having received a wide round of pans from most critics.
Tues-Sat at 8pm, Wed & Sat at 2pm and Sun at 3pm -- $45-$70
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on March 21 performance.

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