A dish best served Cold: Restless Artists Theatre presents ‘The Smell of the Kill’

You never know what goes on between a couple behind closed doors. I’ll never forget my shock when, shortly after my husband and I tied the knot, we learned that a couple we’d been spending time with announced they were splitting up. We hadn’t seen it coming, and it shook us. How had we missed the signs? If it could happen to them, a seemingly perfect, happy couple, what chance did we have?

The truth is, no relationship is perfect, and some are more imperfect than others. Michele Lowe’s late-90s coldhearted comedy The Smell of the Kill, which is running at Sparks’ Restless Artists Theatre through Feb. 26, takes this idea to its furthest reaches. Over the course of its brisk 90 or so minutes, three apparently normal, suburban couples meet for their regular monthly dinner, and, without warning, the cracks in their foundations reveal themselves and chaos ensues.

While there are, technically, six characters, only the wives get any stage time. Nicky (played by Kim Rochelle) and her husband, Jay, are hosting this month. Jay and his golf buddies, Danny and Marty, are super tight, but the wives merely tolerate this monthly tradition. Danny’s wife, Molly (Tonantzin “Tee” Nordwall), is young and upbeat, though ditzy. And Marty’s wife, Debra (Kathy Welch), is older and (she thinks) wiser.

But as the men play golf in the living room, Jay boasts about his recently acquired meat locker and the spoils of his hunting trips, and all three bark orders at their wives from offstage—to bring dessert, to quiet the crying baby, or to insist for the hundredth time that his wife proclaim her love to him. The women’s frustration grows, and the prominent bottle of bourbon empties as their complaints start pouring out.

In Act One, we learn that Nicky’s husband is facing embezzlement charges and wants her to give up the book-editing job she enjoys so she can put on a show of support. Molly wants a baby, but Danny’s overpossessive, stalker-like behavior has been masking his lack of physical intimacy. And as for Debra, Marty’s insistence on shipping their son away to military school is just the tip of the iceberg in their deeply fractured marriage.

Then, abruptly, the men make a thoughtless mistake, and the women suddenly make a chilling realization: A convenient opportunity to escape their problems has just fallen into their laps. At once, a stereotypical suburban scene descends into madness. Will the women fall prey to their desires in the heat of the moment, or will cooler heads prevail?

Though the story managed to completely surprise me, I have a few quibbles with a few plot points. For example, why would a man facing unemployment and, potentially, prison want his wife to quit her job? Why would a too-possessive, stalkerish husband refuse to have sex with his wife? And just why was it necessary to have all three women strip off their shirts?

Aside from these non sequiturs, Lowe’s story needs an update. Its trope of boorish-man-who-golfs-and-his-subservient-wife-who-isn’t-supposed-to-work feels a little too much like The Honeymooners for my taste.

Nonetheless, all three actors handle the material capably, managing to provoke laughs in some truly dark, twisted scenes while sustaining rapid-fire pacing throughout. Newcomer Nordwall makes lovable Molly’s cluelessness into a secret weapon, while Welch’s desperation to leave actually made me feel her anxiety.

If you’ve ever had a revenge fantasy, The Smell of the Kill is your catharsis.

Restless Artists Theatre’s production of The Smell of the Kill will take place at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; and 6:30 p.m. Mondays through Feb. 26. The theater is located at 295 20th St., Sparks. Tickets are $20 with student and military discounts.