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Twisted intrigue at a dinner party

January 13, 2006|David C. Nichols

"I just can't stop buying frozen food, and I'm running out of room," says the unhappy hostess of "The Smell of the Kill." As proto-feminist satire goes, Michele Lowe's 2002 tale of suburban desperation often bristles with dark wit.

Presented by Interact Theatre Company at the NoHo Arts Center, "Smell of the Kill" concerns three couples at a monthly dinner party.

Playwright Lowe puts the men offstage, exposing their characters through their archetypal wives. Career-driven Nicki (Rebecca Tilney) is a reluctant new mom, her lifestyle and last nerve challenged by her husband's embezzlement charges. Ethereal, subjugated Molly (Laura Hornberger) wants a baby, or even just sex. Only real estate maven Debra (Amanda Carlin), a former Phi Beta Kappa, speaks up for homebody status, but her darting eyes say something else.

Their worthless mates (played by a rotating roster of selfless Interact gents) shoot golf balls, bark invective and, finally, bang on the floor, trapped in the downstairs meat locker.

From there, "Smell of the Kill" goes exactly where it must -- the twisted intrigue is in how it gets there.

Lowe has a pop-culture flair for punch lines and sight gags, which director Jane Lanier adroitly exploits to keep tension and farce in balance. Her simple staging is effective, especially Steve Hull's sound, and the acting trio is excellent. Tilney rides a hard line without losing subtlety or surprise.

Hornberger's blithe neophyte would steal the show, except that Carlin, every reaction carrying nine crazed angles, runs away with it. Their engaging efforts provide sufficient snap to offset the prefabricated aspects and metaphor overload of this born cable-TV property.

-- David C. Nichols

"The Smell of the Kill," NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Jan. 29. $15. (818) 765-8732. Running time: 75 minutes.

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