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A CurtainUp BerkshiresBerkshire Review
The Smell of the Kill
The Porches Inn

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.

Smell of the   Kill Cast
Claudia Shear resists Katie Fineran's and Kristen Johnston's bizarre plan for becoming free women.
The program cover features an image of a semi-naked woman and a kitchen knife. 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, who we never meet, except as brutish and demanding voiceovers, 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 (Kristen Johnston), 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 (Katie Finneran), the perennial ingenue (the women all appear to be in their late thirties- early forties) 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.

The play, which has been performed at several other regional theaters is being given a production at BTF that has the distinct smell of Broadway ambition: a dream cast with the buxom and earthy Shear (star and playwright of the terrific Dirty Blonde) , the tall and tough-talking Johnston, (best known for her Emmy winning role in 3rd Rock from the Sun) and the waif-like Finneran (veteran of many Broadway shows) playing off each other with style and pitch-perfect timing; a director, Christopher Ashley, who knows how to cut extraneous matter and invest a comedy with snap, crackle and pop; and some of the best stage designers in the business. In the last category, 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.

The Smell of the Kill
Written by Michelle Lowe
Directed by Christopher Ashley

Cast: Claudia Shear as Debra, Katie Finneranas Molly, Kristen Johnston as Nicky
Set Design: David Gallo
Costume Design: Linda Fisher
Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner
Sound Design: Dan Moses Schreier
Running Time: 70 minutes without intermission
Berkshire Theatre Festival, Stockbridge, MA, 413/298-5536, web site
7/31/01-8/11/01; opening 8/01/1
Mon-Sat at 8pm; Thursday matinees at 2pm; Saturday matinees at 3pm

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on August 1st performance
Berkshire Hikes Book Cover

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