Moving in for the 'Kill'

By Mary C. Cusack

Understudy keeps dark comedy bubbling

The call came at noon on Valentine’s Day eve. Emily Sutton-Smith, development director for Williamston Theatre and one of the stars of its current play, “The Smell of the Kill,” called to say that fellow cast member Teri Clark Linden had been in an accident. The matinee was canceled, and the evening and Sunday performances would feature an understudy performing with script in hand.

Maybe, Sutton-Smith suggested, I should wait until next week to review the show. “It will be a different kind of show,” she explained. This sounded intriguing, the opportunity to see how nimble a local theater production could be when faced with adversity. Could the show go on?

Oh, yes, it could and it did. The supportive Saturday evening audience welcomed managing director Chris Purchis as she joined Sutton-Smith and Laura Croff onstage.

“Kill” is an intense, wickedly hilarious story of three women who, over the course of an evening, break down each other’s perfect-life facades to reveal deep-seated unhappiness. The sources of their angst are their husbands, three former college buddies. The couples meet for dinner monthly, and over the years the wives have developed relationships steeped as much in competitiveness as camaraderie.

Sutton-Smith and Croff are perfectly cast as two alpha females, Nicky and Debra. They circle around each other, literally and figuratively, exchanging vicious pleasantries and housekeeping tips. Debra can’t help judging everyone and commenting on how they should be living their lives, all the while hiding her own crushing loneliness.

Purchis was fortunate to step into the role of the mousy Molly. Performing with the script in hand was far less distracting than it would have been for one of the more dynamic roles.

Molly is walking proof that still waters run deep. On the surface, she is complacent and simple, seemingly graced with a doting husband. As the women tear down each other’s defenses, we learn that Molly has rebelled against her creepily suffocating husband by taking a lover.

The source of Nicky’s angst is very public, as her husband has made the news over an embezzlement scandal. She hides her anger behind a matter-of-fact calm until presented with a situation that will allow her to be free. She becomes the ringleader in a conspiracy to eliminate the source of their mutual pain.

Raw emotion, raw flesh and raw meat are powerful themes here. The brave cast strips both physically and emotionally, creating a sense of naked intimacy between themselves and with the audience.

Linden is expected to resume her role for the rest of the run.

Those who saw "Kill" last weekend were treated to a different show, one that did not disappoint. Despite being saddled with a script as a permanent prop, Purchis delivered an authentic performance, along with some of the most hilarious punchlines. To step into a role with only a day’s notice is easily one of the bravest moves Lansing theatregoers will witness this year.

"The Smell of the Kill"
8 p.m. Thursdays and Frdays, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays,
2 p.m. Sundays
through March 7
Williamston Theatre
122 South Putnam,
$18 Thursdays; $24 Friday and Saturday evenings; $20 Saturday and Sunday matinees; $2 discount for seniors; $10 fir students with valid ID.
(517) 655-7469