Three wives plus three bad husbands equal one big moral dilemma in the Players' "The Smell of the Kill."
“Revenge is a dish best served cold,” to quote an old Klingon proverb. Three desperate housewives take this advice literally in Michele Lowe’s “The Smell of the Kill” at the Players Theatre. Revenge for what?
See: Men, bad behavior of. What else?
Nicky (Carrie McQueen) Debra (Pamela Hopkins) and Molly (Ana Maria Sanabria-Larson) are married to three lousy husbands. Nicky’s husband, Jay, is an embezzler who likes to hunt, kill and eat cute furry animals. So, where does he stash the game? Glad you asked. Despite awaiting an expensive, publically humiliating trial, this Elmer Fudd wannabe put an $8,000 meat locker on his American express card. Hey, no worries. Nicky will resign — and Jay will pay for the lawyer when she cashes out.
Debra’s husband, Marty, uses her as a doormat — but the intimacy stops there. He’s saving himself for sex outside of marriage. Marty plans to turn Debra in for a younger model, kick her out of the house and give her custody of their son as a consolation prize. (This kid-hating dad has been packing the lad off to military school and blaming it on mom.)
Molly’s sexless husband, Danny, is an over-controlling nut who spies on her and calls her every two hours. She wants to have a baby; he wants to be the baby. Molly has her own consolation prize: an affair with a man who actually cares for her. Lousy behavior on the part of the guys, no doubt. And the sentence is …
D-E-A-T-H is far more permanent.
Hey, they’re jerks. Who cares?
You’re not meant to care. The three sorry male specimens are never on stage. (Kudos to unseen male actors Jay Bowman, Michael G. Brown and W. Valen McDaniel. Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutant.)
As the play starts, the Mr. Wrongs are in the game room next to the kitchen playing indoor golf. They holler demands, roll golf balls — then holler for help. Idiots that they are, they’ve gone down to the basement and locked themselves in Jay’s new meat locker with the dead deer and rabbits. The wives find out, and face a moral dilemma.
Murder and happiness?
Not-murder and unhappiness?
After some brief debate, the wives decide to leave the guys there. These husbands are toast, Uh, frozen toast. Hypothermia’s not a painful way to die, at least compared to burning alive. (Look it up.)
Lowe’s comic dialog is appropriately comic — of the sit-com variety. (Set-up, pay-off, laugh. You get the idea.) The laughs roll in under Pam Wiley’s smart comic direction. Which, I think, boils down to hiding the sit-com rhythm so it’s not too obvious.
The three husbands remain unseen; the three wives are on stage the whole time — and nicely realized by three fine performers. McQueen’s Nicky is seething with rage but keeping it together. (She shows you little clues, like a Henkel meat cleaver spearing the newspaper story of her husband’s crime.) Sanabria-Larson’s childless Molly grieves for the baby she doesn’t have — and the baby she didn’t. Her character’s full of love; that love is sinfully wasted. Hopkins’ Debra is the nice gal who finishes last. She’s the hold-out vote on the murder scheme — slowly making up her mind while the husbands weakly pound below her feet. Debra dithers …
But the audience’s vote is never in doubt.
The play’s comic structure sets you up to be a Roman in the Coliseum with your thumbs down. When Debra objects to the solution, it spoils all the fun. But she comes around. The perfect crime goes down with the perfect alibi — the three chauvinist pigs locked themselves in the freezer! So, the women go out for ice cream while the men turn into popsicles. Ha-ha! Murder will not out. For Molly, Nicky and Debra, there will be no consequences. Well, at least aside from financial independence, self-actualization and a chance for true romance.
Despite Henley’s snappy dialog, great performances and direction, this doesn’t work for me. Black comedy is my favorite flavor — but this still left me cold. Why? Hard to say …
Black comedy is tricky. In “Arsenic and Old Lace,” two charming old ladies poison some unhappy old gents … and it’s funny. In “Very Bad Things,” a prostitute winds up dead at a bachelor party. More murder, mutilation and mayhem ensue … and it ain’t funny. A famous Charles Addams cartoon depicted his macabre family pouring boiling oil on Christmas carolers … hilarious!
So, what are the black comedy rules?
A few come to mind …
• Victims should either be utterly rotten or pathetically innocent.
• Victims should not suffer. If they do, you shouldn’t think about it.
• Death should be quick.
For three unseen male chumps, it isn’t. Their fate is funny …
Just so long as you don’t think about it.
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