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Wives' Revenge Rouses Laughs

Nicki (Lorraine Magee), left, and Molly (Ann Colley), right, have some trouble getting Debra (Katy Helper) to go along with the plans for their husbands.
Nicki (Lorraine Magee), left, and Molly (Ann Colley), right, have some trouble getting Debra (Katy Helper) to go along with the plans for their husbands. (Richard Downer)

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By Michael J. Toscano
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, November 9, 2006

Director Bruce Follmer grasps the concept that the best comedy often emanates from truth. If he didn't, "The Smell of the Kill," under his direction and onstage with the Elden Street Players of Herndon, might be sitcom-shallow froth instead of a rapier-sharp, darkly comic tale.

Follmer has taken Michelle Lowe's slight script about a trio of married women who turn into desperado housewives and has pumped it full of resonance with stylish, inspired performances.

Perhaps if Follmer and actors Ann Colley, Katy Helper and Lorraine Magee had been the ones to take the show to Broadway in 2002, it might have fared better. The play lasted barely a month on the Great White Way, lambasted by critics who thought it lacked substance.

Under Follmer's steady hand, the three women, who deal with disappointing marriages in a distinctively cold manner, are brought to life as three-dimensional, fully realized women, killing us with panache and pitch-perfect timing. Put Lowe's sharp and clever dialogue in these lipsticked mouths and some fairly deep emotional issues are clinically explored, even as the audience roars with laughter.

The three tolerate each other at monthly dinners arranged by their husbands, college chums who are insensitive louts. Tonight, they're at Nicki's lavish house. The hubbies are heard but not seen as they play "golf" in the dining room while the ladies retreat to the kitchen.

Nicki (Magee) seems to have it all, including a baby and a rewarding job. But she's seething. Her husband has been indicted on embezzlement charges, and they're about to lose everything. Meanwhile, he's maxed out their credit card by purchasing an $8,000 walk-in freezer to indulge his fixation on hunting and eating his kill. Her anger begins spilling over when the golf-ball tossing men bray for dessert and she whips up something we might call a Titleist Sundae.

Molly (Colley) is a fluff-head who thinks she's still an ingénue, dealing uncomfortably with a husband who is constantly pushing her to trade lovey-dovey greetings. Desperate for a baby, Molly reveals that her guy hasn't been lovey-dovey in the bedroom, sending her into a series of affairs.

Debra (Helper) claims to be comfortable as a traditional stay-at-home wife and mother but just barely masks intense despair. Her husband, we soon learn, is belligerent and in the process of dumping her.

Doesn't sound funny? Lowe has meticulously crafted lines that zing, with the cast rendering bitterness as deliciously tart instead.

Each actor creates a distinct personality, anchored by Magee. She uses her throaty voice and expressive face to archly spit out venomous dialogue with such a precise spin that shocking comments generate guffaws. Magee's energy keeps quips, jabs and revelations bouncing like a ping-pong match as she leads the other two down a fateful path.

Colley also uses her voice to a striking effect, draping her words in silk tones and caressing them for maximum impact, her eyes wide open in innocence. Helper's unraveling character has the longest emotional journey to make as the women consider giving their husbands the cold shoulder (and then some).

Helper plays it low-key and grounded in realism, the dark undercurrents that torment her only gradually bubbling to the surface in some of the play's funniest moments. (Note how expressive she is with just her eyes in a scene where she ends up bound and gagged.)

Follmer's actors work hard, using physicality whenever possible. Every phrase is mined for possible laughs. The action veers into bizarre territory, but it remains plausible, aided by Mike deBlois's highly detailed kitchen and nook set that's authentic down to the designer dog dishes.

By the end of the 90-minute show, you might not approve of the way the women chillingly exact revenge, but you'll probably be too giddy to protest.

"The Smell of the Kill" continues through Nov. 18 at the Industrial Strength Theatre, 269 Sunset Park Dr., Herndon. Showtime is 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students and seniors. For tickets, call 703-481-5930. For information, visithttp://www.eldenstreetplayers.org.


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