Live theater, unsolicited commentary. From Detroit to Lansing.


Had I been given a choice of shows to see a second time, The Smell of the Kill would have made the short list, so I was giddy for another viewing of this co-production, now at the Tipping Point Theatre. I found myself initially preoccupied with the demands of re-review: Were my thoughts too harsh? Was I noticing the wrong things? Could I make valid assessments without simply comparing the current performance with the prior one? Turns out there was nothing to fear: after very little time reunited with Nicky, Debra, and Molly, I was hooked. Again. Those three wives and their devilishly indecorous story hooked me twice.

The busy first beats seem to rattle in the space as the women handle dishes, leftovers, and exposition. Their never-seen husbands yuk it up while setting up a game of golf in the dining room and are an occasional harmless nuisance, but the gossip the women trade in Nicky's kitchen tells a more nefarious tale: these are deeply unhappy women, whose chief source of unhappiness is their husbands. Playwright Michele Lowe quickly gets to the meat (so to speak) of the plot: when the husbands are discovered to be trapped in the walk-in basement freezer, a darkly comic immorality surfaces when one wife stops her rescue efforts to muse, "How long does it take to make ice?"

Actors Laura Croff (Debra), Teri Clark Linden (Molly), and Emily Sutton-Smith (Nicky) deliver biting performances, but their sense of ensemble is ultimately responsible for the play's smooth, swift flow. Not a line or beat feels like a missed opportunity, and the actors' careful work with the text (with masterful direction by Kristine Thatcher) pays off in a team of characters both funny and sympathetic as they try to logically approach disturbing life-or-death decisions. The sharply paced 90-minute show is pushed along by restless staging that ensures decent vantage points from seating that surrounds the stage on three sides.

The stunning kitchen set feels big and airy, just the kind of cold tile-and-granite kitchen Nicky would keep fastidiously clean. The number of elements working in tandem to replicate the sights and sounds of a household is just stunning — designers Ken Faulk (sound), Karen Kangas-Preston (costumes), Daniel C. Walker (set/lighting), and Lynn Lammers (properties), plus resident stage manager Tracy L. Spada, should give behind-the-scenes tours. One of the great successes of the setting is that nothing feels like simple set dressing. Everything is in place to be used, and much of it is, which helps make the corrupt reality of the play surprisingly real.

Script, tech, costumes, direction, performance, comedy — The Smell of the Kill is quite possibly even greater than the sum of its parts. The biggest difference I noted between the two performances were their audiences: whereas the first was characterized by big laughs, this viewing had a quieter energy, bringing out the desperation of the characters and giving the show a little more dramatic push. The production is still shockingly funny, but its equal strength absent the rowdy laughter is indicative of the substance that grounds these characters, making for a wickedly delightful experience.

Read more in my original review of The Smell of the Kill!


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