'Smell of the Kill' examines dark side of suburban success

Friday, September 14, 2012
Molly, center, played by Emily Hornburg, Debra, left, played by Cynthia Luttrull, and Nicky, played by Paula McCormack, discuss living with the husbands they hate in a scene from the River City Players' production of "The Smell of the Kill." (Fred Lynch)

Television may have "Desperate Housewives," but Wisteria Lane's got nothing on the wives of Wilmette in Michele Lowe's "The Smell of the Kill."

This sharp-witted black comedy, which makes its River City Players dinner theater debut this evening at Port Cape Girardeau's Yacht Club, is a fast-paced story of three suburban women who forge a plot to kill their insufferable husbands during their monthly round-robin dinner party. Director Holly Rains said she chose the play because of its comedic and corruptive aspects.

"There's so much of people's lives that we don't see, that we don't even know about," said Rains, who previously directed "Panic" and "Make Me a Match" for the community theater group. "This play provides a very good example of what goes on behind closed doors and how people behave when no one else is around to judge them."

River City Players president Debbie Barnhouse said the group has never put on a show quite like this.

"You've got a comedy that can make you fall right out of your seat laughing, and at the same time some dark human emotions and judgments stew leading to some talk of murder," Barnhouse said. "You end up getting sucked right into it, just like you would with a good drama."

All the action takes place in an immaculate kitchen of an upscale Wilmette, Ill., home. The chauvinistic men (who are heard but never seen) have retired to the living room for a putting match, leaving the wives -- Nicky, Debra and Molly -- to clean up the dishes in the kitchen.

The play centers on the three 21st-century wives stuck in prefeminist marriages; each has a husband who is lacking in some way and is keeping his wife down with rotten behavior. The women are more social acquaintances than friends and part of a group of five married couples (two dropped out on this evening) who get together once a month based on the husbands' old frat brother status.

Normally the wives fill the time with empty chat until it's time to go home, waiting for somebody to leave the room so they can update gossip. This night, however, is different.

Nicky (Paula McCormack) has it all: a million-dollar house, a baby and a great job. But she has a boor of a husband who's just been indicted for embezzling (and everything they own is in his name). She's mad as heck but unsure if she's ready to do anything about it.

Molly (Emily Hornburg) is a rich girl married to a guy who, if he weren't her husband, she would be arrested for stalking. She has wanted a baby for several years, but he's cut out sex to make sure she doesn't get one. On this night, she realizes a husband isn't the only way to get a baby.

Debra (Cynthia Luttrull) is the fly in their ointment, and her husband is womanizing and belligerent.

"These women interact in some incredible ways as the show moves forward," said McCormack, a literature major at Southeast Missouri State University. "We worked very hard all summer to bring these characters to life and show how frustrating the life of an unappreciated spouse can be. We're all really proud of it."

A big house, rich friends and successful husbands are seen as the markings of suburban bliss. But for Debra, Nicky and Molly, these trappings of the American dream are not as fulfilling as they promised to be.

While they clean up in the kitchen, the women slowly dismantle the facade of the perfect life. Once all is out in the open, they are left with a decision as to what path their lives will take. This dark comedy then explores the shallowness of a life built on possessions and propriety, and what happens when that life becomes intolerable to those trapped within it. Rains said she wants the audience to connect with the plight of the characters.

"Even though it is a darker comedy, I am trying to emphasize the lighter aspects of the show; the physical comedy bits and the slapstick," Rains said. "In act one, I think the audience will hate the women. But when the audience learns what is going on in their marriages in act two, I think the audience will sympathize with them. I think the lighter aspects of the show will help the audience do that."

The River City Players' production of "The Smell of the Kill" begins its run today at Port Cape's Yacht Club. Dinner shows will run tonight and Saturday, then Sept. 21 and 22, and will begin at 7 p.m. each day (doors open at 6:30 p.m.). Dinner will consist of a Port Cape buffet, and show reservations are $35. The play will also run Sept. 20, sans dinner, and the cost is $15. To make show reservations, call 334-0954.

jsamons@semissourian.com

388-3641

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19 N. Water St., Cape Girardeau, MO

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