Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, August, 2001
“Now give three cheers. I?ll lead the way. Hoorah, hoorah, hooray!” – W.S. Gilbert, H.M.S. Pinafore
Now give three cheers and one cheer more! That?s one cheer for each of the fine actresses and the extra for?well, I can?t decide whether it should be for playwright Michele Lowe, director Christopher Ashley, set designer David Gallo or lighting designer Kenneth Posner. So let?s just cheer the whole thing! The Smell of the Kill is a hit, the highlight of a Main Stage season for the BTF which failed to ignite in June and July with solid by not stellar productions of H.M.S. Pinafore and Awake and Sing!.
This play just jumps up and smacks you in the face, and, before you know it, its over and you are left exhilarated and entertained. I was struck by the noise in the theatre after the curtain fell last night. Instead of the polite murmur of an exiting audience, there was an excited babbling. As I walked to my car I could hear all around me in the dark men and women discussing their fears and fantasies of spousal murder. I heard one man say “I don?t think I’ll ever go down to the basement alone again.” And one woman said to another, “We don?t have a meat locker, but I could do it in the swimming pool?”
We are all familiar with the old saying, “I’ve never considered divorce, but I’ve thought seriously about murder.” There is something in the marriage bond that makes the fantasy of spousal murder very appealing. One doesn?t want to just release the significant other from the relationship, one wants to eliminate them completely. And that is exactly what Nicky (Kristen Johnston), Molly (Katie Finneran), and Debra (Claudia Shear) do, without shedding one drop of blood on the spotless suburban kitchen floor of Nicky’s $1.35 million dollar home in Willmette, Illinois.
I will not tell you how or why because that would completely spoil the play for you. Trust me that the process is very funny and completely fantastic. Gallo and Posner have designed and lit a set that never lets you forget for a minute that you are in a theatre watching a play. Gallo turns that swanky kitchen, complete with a skylight that Molly refers to once as “God’s little window,” into a steeply raked, forced perspective tunnel. The walls literally close in on you as you walk upstage, or should I say uphill.
While Johnston is the household name from her recent Emmy winning stint on NBC’s Third Rock from the Sun, Shear and Finneran are accomplished stage actresses who more than hold their own in this ensemble tour-de-force. Johnston dominates the stage from time to time due to her imposing height (she is one TALL chick!) but she never steals the show. Nicky, Molly, and Debra could easily be me and my girlfriends – forty-something married women who are over-educated and under-employed – questioning our lives thus far and worried about the future. My gang?s fantasy doesn’t involve murder, but it does involve our husbands conveniently and peacefully passing away, leaving us to conclude our lives as attractive young widows who can do as they please. We dream of living together, sans men and children, in a gorgeous Victorian by the sea where we run a bed & breakfast… But I digress.
Not since I saw An Empty Plate at the Cafe de Grand Boeuf at the BTF three years ago have I been as excited by a new play. I highly recommend The Smell of the Kill as a girls-night-out, but basically anyone who is or ever has been in a long-term monogamous relationship will be able to relate. Get tickets NOW!
The Smell of the Kill, runs through August 11 on the Main Stage at the Berkshire Theatre Festival (413-298-5536) between Rts. 7 & 102 in Stockbridge. The show runs an hour and ten minutes with no intermission.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2001