Friday, Oct. 9, 2009

Smell of the Kill

An Apology To My Wife

By Russ Bickerstaff
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At some point over the course of a week, my wife will ask me what I’m seeing the following weekend. And she’ll ask me if there’s anything that she would want to see. The wife of a theatre critic does NOT want to see everything that her husband goes to. As this is the case, she trusts me to suggest what I’m seeing that she might want to go to. And this week, she will have seen two shows with me. And one of them will NOT have been Renaissance Theaterworks’ The Smell Of The Kill.

I owe her an apology.

She really, really would’ve loved it. The show opens tonight. My schedule was busy enough that I could only catch the final dress rehearsal of the show last night. (Next week’s worse.) Michele Lowe’s script is phenomenally funny. And as it runs at a really brisk pace from beginning to end in a little less than an hour and a half with no intermission, my wife even would’ve loved the pacing. Sorry, Carrie.

The Nathan Stuber set is cleverly designed to look like a very upscale modern kitchen. There is stainless steel. There are shiny, black surfaces. There are rectangular, white ceramic bowls. There are chairs with enough attitude that I’m sure my wife (or her parents) could’ve identified the designer. Renaissance Theaterworks isn’t working with the kind of budget that would’ve been able to afford a perfectly authentic look of an expensive kitchen down to the last expensive detail, but I don’t watch as much HGTV as my wife . . . and even if every detail isn’t exactly perfect, the overall illusion of a very, very expensive kitchen in the suburbs is complete.

The story centers around the wives of three guys who went to school together. They’re all very wealthy and they’re all having marital problems--the kind that aren’t painfully obvious. (The kind that get whispered about in rumor.) The script opens in comically exaggerated gossip. Those dark little secrets slowly expand to become the central conflict of a play featuring some of the funniest dialogue I’ve heard this season. It’s almost an all-female cast. There are a couple of guys in the play, (Charles Hanel and the semi-ubiquitous Doug Jarecki,) but aside from a pair of hands, they appear in voice only.
As I saw a dress rehearsal, I can’t really speak about the acting, which is going to make it really difficult not to mention what a brilliant job Karen Estrada does in a very, very funny performance as the non-intellectual Molly. The cast also includes Melinda Pfundstein as Debra--the conservative wife of a real estate agent and Julie Swenson as Nicky—the desperate hostess whose kitchen the entire thing takes place in.

And, of course, that last turn of phrase brings-up in interesting point. Lowe’s Smell of the Kill debuted on Broadway in 2002, which makes it a precursor to TV’s Desperate Housewives, which didn’t debut until a couple of years later . The overall feel of Kill is very similar to Housewives, but Lowe’s play has more depth and far funnier lines than anything I remember in the TV series. I never really understood the appeal of the TV show until I saw this play, which has no direct relationship to it.

With two comedies opening-up downtown tonight, there's kind of an interesting split between two different venues on opposite sides of Wisconsin Avenue. Tonight as three guys take the stage for Bunk Bed Brothers at the Marcus Center, three women take a smaller stage on Broadway. Due to an error in judgment, my wife and I will be hanging out with the guys this evening. Sorry, Carrie. Tarjan, McGivern and Halverson will be fun tonight, but there’s no doubt in my mind that you would’ve had a better time with the girls.

Renaissance Theaterworks’ The Smell Of The Kill opens tonight and runs through November 1st at the Broadway Theater Center. A concise review of the show runs in next week’s Shepherd-Express.

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