Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

The Smell of the Kill Wickedly Wonderful Comedy
City Lights Theater Company
Review by Jeanie K. Smith

Also see Jeanie's review of The Heiress and Richard's review of Silent Sky

Morgan Allyne Voellger, Diahanna Davidson and Mandy Armes
What a fun show! Delicious, devilish, and downright nasty at times, Michele Lowe's 2002 play The Smell of the Kill currently playing City Lights Theater is the kind of show that will have you still chuckling long after you've left the theatre. Give yourself a good time and see this hilarious show before it's gone.

Nicky, Molly and Debra are cleaning up after dinner in Nicky's home, while their husbands—unseen offstage—play golf in the dining room. How they know each other isn't clear—maybe work connections, or real estate transactions, but it doesn't matter. They've been meeting for dinner once a month for a while, enough to know each other more than a little, but maybe not a whole lot—until tonight.

Nicky (Mandy Armes) is clearly on edge, anxious and bitter, and soon it's revealed that her husband Jay has been indicted for embezzlement and their whole future is in jeopardy. Molly (Morgan Allyne Voellger) exchanges pet names and endearments with her offstage husband, but then reveals that he stalks her and worse. Debra (Diahanna Davidson) seems to have it all together with her marriage, but finally she, too, must reveal secrets that smash the facade.

As the women bicker and drink in the kitchen, the male banter offstage goes quiet; when Debra decides to leave and can't find her husband, the women realize that the three men have accidentally locked themselves in Jay's latest extravagance in the basement—a freezing cold, thick-walled meat locker. After initially scrambling to find the key, the women begin to see the opportunity in the situation. Will they free their husbands from certain death? Or will they allow the men to perish in the meat locker, thus freeing themselves from rotten relationships?

How the women deal with each other and come to their decision is the stuff of gleeful dark comedy. It's also a bit sobering, perhaps allowing audience members to wonder, even a little, about what their own fate would be should their spouse be given such an opportunity. (Insert loud laughter here!) It's exactly that Hitchcockian twist that makes this play so delectable—so over the top and yet utterly believable at the same time.

The play is aided in this production by three marvelous actresses, each of whom fleshes out her character with nuance and depth, and all of whom are quite adept at comedy. Armes has the resolute toughness to portray Nicky as the natural leader, the survivor, yet she can also be wacky and manic. Voellger is terrific as seemingly meek Molly, with a wide-eyed ingenuousness that belies her sensuality and desire for a child. Debra is presumably the "older" of the three, evidenced by the way she's dressed, and Davidson gives her a kind of moral high ground that's convincing, until she equally convincingly crumbles when confessing the truth. The three are clearly comfortable in their own skins and with each other, and the chemistry on stage is comic gold.

Production values shine as well. Ron Gasparinetti's unit set is inspired, evoking status, the dominance of a male aesthetic, and providing varied playing areas, including the door to the dining room where we almost see the men. Properties by Tyler Della and Ivette Deltoro nicely complement the action, and lighting by David Gotlieb creates interesting subtle shifts in mood. Kit Wilder has nicely staged the women's fights, and George Psarras's sound design adds amusing touches. I wasn't thrilled with Amy Zsadani-Yale's costumes at first, but as the women change and their costumes change, her overall design emerges and makes sense.

In short, it's a winner, and you don't want to miss the fun. And if it motivates you to be a little nicer to your loved one, well, don't say I didn't warn you.

The Smell of the Kill by Michele Lowe, presented by City Lights Theater Company, 529 S. Second Street, San Jose; through February 23. Tickets $17 - $32; available at or at 408-295-4200.

Photo: Mike Ko

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Jeanie K. Smith

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