‘The Smell of the Kill’ convinces

By - Oct 12th, 2009 09:48 am

What if you had the chance to kill someone without the possibility of consequences?

Melinda Pfundstein, Julie Swenson and Karen Estrada in "The Smell of the Kill." Photo, courtesy of Jean Bernstein.

Melinda Pfundstein (Debra), Julie Swenson (Nicky) and Karen Estrada (Molly) in “The Smell of the Kill.” Photos, courtesy of Jean Bernstein.

This question gets to the dark heart of The Smell of the Kill by Michelle Lowe, which kicks off Renaissance Theaterworks (RTW) 2009-10 mainstage season. In this play, three women — each with a different motive to eliminate her husband — are presented with this very opportunity during one of their monthly get-togethers. The setting is a large kitchen where the women interact. The wives take sanctuary here, far away from their obnoxious significant others. It is where they discuss, sometimes near exasperation, their complete dissatisfaction with their marital choices. A twist of circumstance reveals a chance to eliminate the cause of their problems through simple laissez faire.

To further the tension, the men are played exclusively by offstage voices, which deny the audience any chance to feel sympathy toward them.

Julie Swenson as Nicky.

Julie Swenson as Nicky.

Reva Fox directed this well-paced, well-unified production. For an uninterrupted 75 minutes, the three would-be murderesses direct insults, fists and sharp lines of gossip toward one another about themselves and their male counterparts. This is a dark comedy, which is a difficult rail to walk without stepping too far one way or another and becoming heavy or surreal. Only at times is the actor delivery and action too broad, taking the audience out of the play and becoming a comedy of a lighter tone than what the script requires. No one is innocent or easy to empathize with, either, but Fox keeps us interested by driving the play with quick, constant patter — never giving the audience a chance to think about the moral implications of the wives’ actions.

Melinda Pfundstein offered a realistic portrayal of her character Debra, while the roles of Molly (Karen Estrada) and Nicky (Julie Swenson) were portrayed, at times, with more exaggerated gestures that came across as two-dimensional. Debra is the wild card in this murder game. While the two other women are set on offing their husbands, her character is conflicted. Doug Jarecki (Marty/Jay) and Charles Hanel’s (Danny) characters, although mere voices, could have been done in a way that gave their edgy circumstances more weight.

Karen Estrada (Molly) in "The Smell of the Kill."

Karen Estrada (Molly) in “The Smell of the Kill.”

Nathan Stuber’s set design was appropriately dark, cold and vast, complete with harbinger-like paintings. A strange lighting choice near the end of the production mistakenly read as the end of the play and could have used a more subtle transition.

The Smell of the Kill will continue at Studio Theatre, Broadway Theatre Center, located at 158 N. Broadway, through Nov. 1. For ticketing information, visit the Renaissance website or call 414-291-7800.


Categories: Arts & Culture, Theater

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