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Killer Queens: (l-r) May, Hart and Delaney of Capital Rep’s The Smell of the Kill.

Sharp as Wives
By James Yeara

The Smell of the Kill
By Michele Lowe, directed by Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill
Capital Repertory Theatre, through May 7

Any comedy that features attractive women stripping or stripped to their frilly teddies or camisoles had better have more going for it than titillation. Any comedy that has upper-class, happily married wives leaving their husband to freeze to death in an expensive meat locker, literally locking the men in their boxes to turn frigid with the other dead meat of hunted animals, had better have more levels to it than just shlocky symbolism.

Thankfully, The Smell of the Kill isn’t just any comedy, and the curiously thought-provoking play is more fun than just simple light farce. This is as good a show as Capital Repertory Theatre’s I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, and every bit as funny, trenchant and well-directed. And at 75 minutes with no intermission, the laughs come quick, long, hard, and frequent, and that is something to be glad for.

The Smell of the Kill is suddenly everywhere since its 1999 inception at Cleveland Public Theater. After playing at Berkshire Theatre Festival last summer, it’s playing currently at the Helen Hayes Theater in Manhattan with the same BTF director and the star (Claudia Shear) of the BTF cast. It’s tempting to state, “Why see an imitation here when you can see it on Broadway?”

But Capital Repertory’s production features three rich performances that squeeze all the laughs out of the material, and a bit of humanity that might go overlooked elsewhere. A play about hoisting a bully by his own petard is rich in irony, and while the plot—killing husbands who have no redeeming qualities other than money (and they each lose that, leading to the thought a man is what he earns)—smacks of the worst sort of sexism, Capital Rep’s The Smell of the Kill is made surprisingly empathetic. I wanted these murderers to get away with it, and their little dance of joy to “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” shows the thoughtful hand on the director’s clapboard here.

No one goes to a comedy for the plot, and The Smell of the Kill’s is silly. Three wealthy wives, Nicky (Corinna May), Molly (Shelley Delaney), and Debra (Pamela Hart in the Claudia Shear role), meet with their respective mates in Nicky’s expensive home for their monthly expensive group meal—and their expensive lives implode. The men play golf in the living room while the women clear up and kvetch in the kitchen, interrupted by the men throwing their balls into the room. The women end up partially disrobing to reveal how truly goofy lingerie looks, and eventually vote to let their husband freeze to death in the expensive meat locker Nicky’s husband has installed to freeze his hunting kills.

The plot doesn’t read promising, but it plays well.

The three actresses amaze. Each has moments that make you laugh so hard Capital Rep will have to Scotchgard the seats. Hart, as the buxom Debra, plays the transformation from earth mother to wounded tigress with a glee that’s palpable.

Delaney delights as Molly, the airhead with the thoughts of gold. The star of Capital Rep’s previous stellar Dancing at Lughnasa and Sylvia, Delaney has a focus that allows her to snap her non sequiturs off with a breathtaking and exact clarity. She makes Molly’s journey more than just a series of I Love Lucy miscues with an avant-garde edge. Delaney’s gamine charms deserve raves; her Molly is a glass of bubbly crossed with a fortune cookie’s wisdom. Delaney’s talent makes Molly a person, not just a collection of comedic devices.

As for Corinna May’s Nicky, a joke often heard at May’s usual haunts Shakespeare & Company is that every review includes “and as (fill in character’s name) the lovely Corinna May.” May is lovely as Nicky, all icy blonde trophy wife, but May creates a Nicky whose rage, hurt, humiliation and longing are as real as the laughter. She goes far beyond the ambition and ego of the typical trophy wife gone bad. May’s focus follows Nicky’s tracks as surely as her husband did on the hunt. It’s a role in a play May would have never have had at Shakespeare & Company, and Capital Rep should be lauded for that, too.

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