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TRIUMVERATE: At Dragon Theatre, three women dish in the kitchen.

Wives Tale

Palo Alto Players puts the music into 'Little Women'

By Marianne Messina

MICHELE LOWE'S humor lands somewhere between malicious and malevolent in The Smell of the Kill, the latest Dragon Productions play. Three women sequestered in Nicky's (Meredith Hagedorn) kitchen as their husbands convert the adjoining rooms into a mini–golf course do what seasoned wives do best: gossip, process, accommodate their men's shouted requests and stab each other in the back (figuratively, for the most part). And talk about their husbands, of course. Nicky's husband, who has squandered them into debt, is under indictment; Debra's (Laura Jane Bailey) husband is a philanderer; Molly's (Shannon Stowe) husband has regressed to puppy love, avoiding physical intimacy in spite of Molly wanting to have a baby.

Under director Ana-Catrina Buchser, Dragon Productions has brought big theater values (and sellout crowds) to the play in a small theater space, where set designer Ron Gasparinetti has crammed everything plus the kitchen sink and still left room for scuffles, slapstick and flying golf balls. Unseen beyond a swinging door, the three husbands coo love talk, bark commands, thump around, hurl golf balls and occasionally threaten the kitchen sanctuary by advancing on the door. It's an extravagant outlay of male talent (husbands are played on alternate evenings by Dale Albright, John T. Aney and Steve Cortopassi or Thomas Gorrebeeck, Tom Gough and Josh Sigal), in light of how little we see of the husbands. But the men's live presence lets the audience share the women's sense of impending interruption.

The three women deliver quick comedic timing in an easy, natural-feeling package as clipped retorts pile on each other, rapid fire: "It's not my turn" (Debra); "Yes it is" (Nicky); and "Ha" (Molly) all come out in a split second. In lesser hands, we would have time to reflect on whether the repartee feels contrived or the routines gratuitous (like why all the women end up taking off their shirts). But Stowe, Hagedorn and Bailey make the women plausible, right through the implausible ending. As Debra, the most "righteous" and apparently happily married, Bailey is the queen of subversive facial expressions. "Yes, poor Nicky, blah, blah, blah," she says as her tongue extends into barf position.

Bailey's Debra snipes with an air of goodwill: "Maybe you're not supposed to have a baby," she tells Molly as if consoling her. Stowe's bouncy red hair and pretty, freckled face, make it easy to see Molly as Danny's cuddle-toy obsession (he sets her watch to go off every two hours so she'll think of him). Stowe puts a warm fuzzy face on Molly's cold-blooded conscience. As the breadwinning book editor Nicky, Hagedorn coats both strength and frustration in an unflappable cynicism. Lowe's humor exposes the worst of women's behaviors—such as when one woman leaves the room, the other two churn her into gossip without changing gears. These three create an emotional environment as changeable as the weather, moving in a trice from catty humor to sympathetic listening. Though Lowe gives the guys in these women's lives a pretty raw deal, a mixed audience at a recent show indicates that the humor is fairly equal opportunity.

THE SMELL OF THE KILL, a Dragon Productions presentation, plays Thursday–Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through Nov. 18 at Dragon Theatre, 535 Alma St., Palo Alto. Tickets are $15–$20. (800.838.3006)

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