Suburbia: the final frontier. An unexplored wilderness where floating dinner parties belie the seething bloodlust of its primitive inhabitants.
Cautiously they emerge at dusk from their SUVs, huddling in small packs over steaming hunks of smoked meat. After feeding, the males and females self-segregate for drinks and disorganized infighting to relitigate the pecking order. Surprisingly, the body count at most of these gatherings generally remains low, despite the flinging of mud, the baring of fangs and the brandishing of firearms.
Yes, the results probably would have been better had Margaret Mead or Jane Goodall written The Smell of the Kill, a battle-of-the-sexes comedy that lingered on Broadway for a month in 2002 despite a drubbing by the critics.
To be fair, playwright Michele Lowe's script is far from a complete fiasco. And under Peggy Taphorn's direction, a more-than-game cast uses every technology besides hydraulic fracking to extract laughs, if not novelty, from the proceedings. At the play's outset, dinner has been eaten at Jay and Marty's upscale urban digs. (Jay killed the main course while hunting, storing it in a walk-in meat locker he just installed in the basement.)
The women are cleaning up in the kitchen while the men (who are never seen) indulge in a raucous game in the adjacent room. Judging by the boorish epithets they yell at the women, the men are jerks—with the possible exception of one ever-so-slightly creepy sweetheart, Danny.
By and by, the room goes still. Then an insistent thud is heard from underneath the floorboards. The men have locked themselves into the meat locker and can't get out. Nicky looks frantically for the key. She finds it. Then she stops, to the horrified looks of her friends, to think it over.
From that point, a vigorous debate ensues over whether to leave the men down in the freezer.
Until this plot turn, the script's repartee had consisted of low blows delivered among the women—catty remarks about careers, kids, domestic prowess and the lack of each or all. But now, they're directed at the men.
Nicky (Lynda Clark, in supremely comic dudgeon) is fed up with a husband who has just been charged with fraud and endangered the family finances. Molly (Robyne Parrish, whose breathy line delivery throughout references Marilyn Monroe) is already looking elsewhere for the sex her husband has lost interest in. Prickly Debra (Staci Sabarsky, in the most thankless role of the evening), undercuts the other women, oblivious at first to her husband's transgressions.
After the playwright finds a gratuitous excuse to get everyone on stage down to some or all of their unmentionables, the predictable catfight begins. To absolutely no one's surprise, realizations slowly dawn, and hearts and minds are gradually changed. As the women realize how little they've really known about one other until then, consciousnesses are raised.
In short, The Smell aspires to be something of an Arsenic and Old Lace for the modern—and upscale—woman. But a sitcom-level premise and scripting keeps its achievements modest, despite some of the best on-stage help the region has to offer.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Cold, cold hearts."