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by Michele Lowe

This is what I tell people about my first play The Smell of the Kill: it’s a dark comedy about three women who want to kill their husbands and get the chance to do it.

This is what I don’t tell them: I wrote The Smell of the Kill as a drama. I never meant it to be funny. The women in the play are bitter and unhappy. The men are trapped in a meat locker. If the men die, the women become free. This is dramatic material.

The first time I had an inkling the play was funny was in November 1991 when we did the first reading at Playwrights Horizons. The director, Bob Moss, cast Margaret Whitton, Harriet Harris and Julie Hagerty. Perhaps the presence of these great comediennes should have been my first clue, but I was so green; I was just happy they’d shown up.

We started the reading and about two minutes into it, someone in the audience laughed. Then another person laughed. Pretty soon everyone was laughing. I was mortified. They were laughing at my play. Even worse, I thought they were laughing AT ME.

“Why are they laughing? I whispered to Bob.

“Because it’s hilarious. What you wrote is funny.”

“Are you sure?” He pointed to someone next to us wiping away tears.

“Ask her.”

So I’d written a comedy.

When it was time to write my next play, people expected me to write another comedy and I did. I wrote what I thought was a very funny play and it was terrible. This time I’d set out to write a comedy and it was neither funny nor dramatic. Nothing was at stake. No important choices had to be made. It wasn’t really about anything. It was just me trying too hard.

When directors talk to me about The Smell of the Kill, I tell them to rehearse it the way I wrote it. Rehearse it as a drama. Forget that it’s funny. Go for what’s honest and true in everything the women say and do. Don’t look for the laughs, they’ll come. What is being said and done onstage will resonate with the audience, they’ll see themselves up there. And because they understand what the women feel, they’ll feel a great release. And that, I think is where the comedy comes from. It comes from truth.

I know this because years later, when The Smell of the Kill was running at the Helen Hayes Theatre, we’d hear women in the audience shouting to the actresses onstage,

“Don’t let them out! Don’t let them out!”

Crazy stuff.

Funny.

 

This piece was originally printed in The Dramatist magazine.

 

DSC_5822Michele Lowe received the 2010 Francesca Primus Prize for her play INANA. She was a finalist for the 2010 Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award for INANA and VICTORIA MUSICA which marks the first time in the award’s 33 year history that a playwright has been independently nominated for two plays in one season. She was also a finalist for the 2009 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. Michele is currently at work on a new musical THE BREAK with composer Scott Davenport Richards for Signature Theatre. Her plays include THE SMELL OF THE KILL (Broadway debut), STRING OF PEARLS (Primary Stages; Outer Critics Circle nomination for Outstanding Off-Broadway Play), and MAP OF HEAVEN. She’s a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, a member of The Dramatists Guild and ASCAP and serves on the board of trustees for the Usdan Center for the Creative and Performing Arts. Michele teaches playwriting online to students across the country. For more information: www.michelelowe.net.

 

Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.

 

 

Michele Lowe
About Michele Lowe