Best served cold

A new comedy gives wives the upper hand.

PLAYWRIGHT MICHELE LOEWE has an awful confession to make about her new comedy, The Smell of the Kill, in which a trio of wives unexpectedly find themselves with the power of life and death when their husbands end up locked in a meat freezer. "I wrote this play as a drama," she asserts with a chuckle. "Really. I thought this was the most serious thing I'd ever written. When I heard people laughing at the first reading, that blew me away. What I've learned is, I write comedy fine as long as I don't try to write comedy. Somehow, in the trip from my head to the page, it just comes out funny."

The Smell of the Kill

Intiman Theater, July 7-August 5

Bartlett Sher, Intiman's new artistic director and the man who chose the play to fill out their new season, isn't at all surprised by Loewe's admission. "This play is like any really good comedy; it's based on the deepest possible pain. She's gone into the core of abusive relationships, power manipulation, treachery, and betrayal and found all the big yuks that go with those subjects. It's a play that hits something major in the zeitgeist, about women's rage and anger. Every man who's ever screwed somebody over, which represents about 95 percent of us, will undoubtedly get some strange satisfaction out of seeing this play."

The idea came to Loewe not from her own romantic relationships (as her husband is no doubt glad to hear), but from that of her parents and their married friends. "My father and his fraternity brothers from high school had been meeting every month for the past 50 years," she says. "What invariably happened was that they went from house to house for these meetings, and though the settings would change, I noticed when I was growing up that the men always ended up in one room and their wives always ended up in the kitchen. In the morning there would always be these little thimbleful glasses of crè­¥ de menthe sitting around and I always wondered, what was going on at these parties?"

Not, one hopes, homicidal scheming, but Loewe says that in conversations she's had with a variety of women about her play she's found that its scenario is a much more common fantasy than she expected. "What's really funny is that women are really willing to talk about it. They admit that they'll occasionally just look across the table and can't believe that they ended up marrying this guy." To these women, the play can be a delightfully cathartic experience. "The three women in the play really come together as a community for the first time in their lives, despite having known each other for 20 years. By sharing something, it becomes a very special experience for them. It's the power of a female-dominant group and it's exhilarating to consider."

While men may be a little disturbed at realizing what murderous thoughts occasionally flit through their wives' consciousnesses, they've been receptive to the play's comedy. "It's amazing, and quite gratifying, that the men seem to get into it as much as the women and end up laughing just as much. I think that's partly because it is a comedy, but to me really good comedy is often pretty serious stuff."

Sher's choice to direct Smell of the Kill is the former artistic director of A Contemporary Theater, Jeff Steitzer.

Indeed, the new head of Intiman has chosen not to direct any of the shows in his first season at the helm, but to concentrate instead on learning the inner workings of his new theater and the dynamics of his new city. "It's hard to be patient, but I don't think I could have done it any other way."

Both Sher and Steitzer were delighted with the first reading of the play and have high hopes that Seattle audiences will be receptive to a chilly and dark comedy during the summer months. In the meantime, Loewe has just learned that her play is going to be opening soon in New York and in Iceland. "When my agent told me about Iceland, I just couldn't stop laughing. You'd think that it would be the last place that people would find a scenario like this intriguing. I guess it just goes to show that the idea of this play is even more universal than I thought."

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