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The Smell of the Kill

Presented by Elizabeth I. McCann, Nelle Nugent, Milton & Tamar Maltz, and USA Ostar Theatricals at the Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 W. 44 St., NYC. Opened March 26 for an open run.

Maybe 30 years ago "The Smell of the Kill" would have been funny and relevant. Michele Lowe's dark comedy could have been viewed as a bracing slap in the face to male complacency at the dawn of the Women's Liberation movement. But now it seems like a tired TV rerun. Three affluent suburban wives are dissatisfied with their lot, specifically with their husbands, who are the cause of all their problems. Through an incredibly convenient plot device, the women have the opportunity to murder their menfolk with a strong chance of getting away with it. Do they get rid of the bastards or not?

This is basically a one-joke sitcom that plays itself out rather quickly. The running time is barely an hour and 20 minutes. The premise is totally unbelievable (any good policeman would crack the case without breaking a sweat) and the husbands are so overbearingly awful that the wives' moral dilemma has no weight.

Director Christopher Ashley does his usual sprightly job of keeping the action chugging along as the actresses race around David Gallo's gleaming kitchen set. There are some funny bits and they are almost all provided by Jessica Stone as the potential murderess who could be described as not the brightest crayon in the box. She has a simple, direct quality of reacting bizarrely as if it were the most natural thing in the world. The way she calmly munches croutons as a crime is plotted is priceless. Her strangled cry of anguish when she is reminded of her spouse's smothering devotion is an aural comic delight.

Lisa Emery and Claudia Shear expertly convey the intensity of their characters' anguish through clenched teeth and rapid-fire delivery.

"The Smell of the Kill" might show up on the roster of a few summer theatres looking for a light TV-style tidbit, but its future on Broadway is shaky at best.

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