The Smell of the Kill doesn’t offer much to work with

REVIEW
By Grayson Barnes

WICHITA - The Smell of the Kill, by Michelle Lowe, was John Dalton-White’s directorial debut at Wichita Community Theatre (WCT).
    After originally premiering in Cleveland, Ohio in 1999, in 2002 it showed at the Helen Hayes Theatre on Broadway. It went on for a surprising 40 performances. I say “surprising,” because there isn’t much to work with. Dalton-White and his crew did their best, nonetheless.
    The story is about three women, Nicky, Molly, and Debra, who are cleaning up after dinner in the kitchen of Nicky’s 1.2 million-dollar home. They are together ONLY because their husbands are college buddies. Notably absent are the menfolk, whose hyper-masculine bellows occasionally toll from another room.
    The boisterousness of the bro-bonding is perfect audible cover for the gals to discuss their marital dissatisfaction. The guys play parlor golf, break things, torture the cat, and toss their (golf) balls into the kitchen at their wives when there is no dessert.
    The women are Barbie-types with actual barbs. They variously pair up and claw at the wayward third who wanders off-stage to attend to the husbands’ or an unseen baby’s needs. Collectively the trio swipe at their husbands. Except for Debra.
    Nicky’s husband has been accused of embezzling seven million dollars (his “moral limit”) and awaits trial. Molly’s husband hasn’t slept with her in years, yet is pathologically stalker-ish. He shows up unexpectedly at her “ladies who lunch” moments and gave Molly a watch with an alarm set for every two hours so she can call him.
    Regardless, she wants a baby, so blushingly innocent Molly managed to have an affair in spite of her helicopter husband.
    Dutiful Debra claims to love her man. Will she to stick to that, even when the boys get conveniently trapped in the new meat freezer (for all Nicky’s husband’s deer) in the basement? It just happens to have a persnickety lock. What should the women do?
    The action takes place solely in the kitchen/great room. For the story, it had to be upscale enough to give us the sensibility that the existence of these people was at least bordering Original Housewives level. Bob Lancaster, the set designer, did that with his muted gray and white scheme. It gave the area the feel of stateliness, but provided a neutral backdrop for the actors. He also included a pantry clearly visible to the audience for a few moments of “set humor.”
    The difficulty at the small WCT is making a space large enough for a script which requires large emotional movement from the actors. They needed enough room to roil about without caroming into pieces or each other. Lancaster’s construction deftly met the variables.   
    Charlene Grinsell played Nicky. Her physical intensity was understated yet comedic. She constantly threatened to boil over and make a very bad mess on the stove, but cleaned up after a few drips and simmered some more.
    Jessica Heidrick was Molly. She remained the adroitly doe-eyed “straight man,” (ala Betty White) even after providing us with her revelation.
    While Nicky was ready to roil, Darian Leatherman’s Debra was an expertly gossipy yet stolid “church lady.” Debra was the broadest character in the bunch. Leatherman kept herself just holier-than-thou enough to make us believe she wasn’t going to budge off her bit of moral high ground.
    When Debra (Leatherman) confessed her philandering husband had kicked her out of HER house, she decided he should freeze too. It was a startling change-up when Leatherman carried this off without giving this “turn around” moment in the play away too soon – a nicely sweet treat in what was thin fare as far as the play itself.
    As to that, The Smell of the Kill is a collection of differences slightly above and below a line of “tepid.” It is measured, yet not terribly deep. It is threatening, but forgettable. Its premise is plausible, although the narrowness of the characters and their reasoning makes the punch-line predictable.
    The Smell of the Kill is funny, however only mildly and not genuinely. It is 80 minutes with no intermission, which instead of keeping me captivated, made me feel captive. This is utterly the fault of the writing, not the actors.
    A funny, thoughtful, well-articulated play would have surprised, entertained, and amused us right up to the end. In The Smell of the Kill, however, about halfway through, we know exactly what’s going down. I wish Dalton-White had a bit more to work with on his first round at WCT. The actors also deserve some extra applause for seeing it through.
    For future shows at WCT, visit www.wichitact.org.  l

Intersections: LGBTQIA Artist Talks at WSU

3artistsREVIEW
By Grayson Barnes

WICHITA - One of the Wichita State University “Gaypril” events was an artist talk sponsored by the Cadman Art Gallery on campus -- its first such event. Three speakers, Alexander Moore, Sally Frater, and Kelsy Gossett participated in a PechaKucha format where they offered 20 slides for 20 seconds each through which they shared their work or projects they had been involved in.
    Alexander Moore is working on his Bachelor’s in Studio Arts at WSU. He is also the Assistant for the Shift Space Gallery at 416 S. Commerce in Wichita.
    Moore started his talk with images of his childhood. He disclosed that he had grown up gay in an accepting household, despite living in the “oppressive state” of Kansas.
    This experience created his artistic interests in psychological landscapes, large- and small-scale views, power structures, and unusual materials.
    A work by Moore that ticks off his first three criteria seems simple at first glance: two paintings on canvas, one on the wall and one on the floor. However, the floor piece is a HUGE work in muted pastels with irregular borders. Moore arranged the surface so that it is topographic, rather than flat like a traditional painting. It becomes a behemoth blocking the way so it is difficult for the viewer to interact with the TINY canvas on the wall behind it. The geography of the floor thus becomes a limitation.  
    Moore is also fascinated by materials he considers ‘abject.’ In Post-Structuralist theory, these are substances which disturb reality, and/or sensibility and convention. Fingernails parings are not what most would think of as an ‘art medium.’
    However, Moore used these in his pseudo-taxidermy Hedgehog, along with a compendium of other, well, NOT hedgehoggy elements. His goal was to make us question art (taxidermy?), life (dead hedgehog?), and the aspects of us that are cast away (fingernails = abject) that can be a part of BOTH life and art – if/when we change our view(s).
    Also presenting was Sally Frater, the Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Ulrich Museum at WSU. Frater shared pieces by artists that she had worked with. All of them explored the identities of race, culture, and sexuality. The first artist Frater talked about was Michele Pearson Clarke, who was born in Trinidad.
    In Clarke’s video work All That is Left Unsaid, there are clips of Audre Lorde inhaling and exhaling. There is no sound. Here, Clarke draws parallels between the iconic (“Black, Lesbian, Mother, Warrior, Poet”) Lorde (who was from the Caribbean) her own blackness and sexuality, and her mother. There is also an allusion to Lorde’s work, because Lorde was known to say “your silence will not protect you.”

    We could even reference popular culture and tie in Star Wars: “It is all that is left unsaid upon which tragedies are built (Kreia, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords).” Clarke’s work stresses the necessity of communication.
    Jorge Galván Flores’ oeuvre is a dialog about identity and how that shifts, as well as empire and commodity. Although these are deep subjects, there is a sense of play in his pieces.
    One of his works, Espac-tacular, is a billboard. For the image, he trolled Google Maps and took two pictures, one from the street Paseo de los Heroes in Tijuana and one from the gardens at Versailles in France. He incorporated them seamlessly to create a composite.
    This was inspired by Flores’ amusement that the manicured bushes (topiaries) – which to him symbolize dominion and empire – were also favored by the folks on the street in Mexico.

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For Your Viewing Pleasure: Kelsy Gossett

03-Jun-17 34REVIEW
By Grayson Barnes

WICHITA - Artists who candidate for a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree have to do a ‘thesis’ too. Instead of creating a bound volume of their accumulated research (including citations) like other disciplines, artists have to show what they have learned in a visual format. Just like that book it is judged by a panel of scholars. The difference is, that book appears in a few copies. Maybe at some point someone will blow the dust off of it and read it. The artist’s Thesis Exhibition, however, is open to everyone. The artist bares her soul.
    For Kelsy Gossett, who had her MFA Thesis Exhibition at the Diver Studio this past month, that soul-baring included some actual skin-baring. Not totally, though. She kept her undies on along with some other ‘outfits.’
    Gossett chooses underwear and clothing for her videos specifically to subvert that women dress FOR men. Her work is about maneuvering through the quagmire of female fetishism and sexual suppression commercialized for the heterosexual male gaze.
    Since Gossett’s work is video-based, a number of projection screens and televisions showing her films were strewn about the upstairs gallery at the Diver. The stripped warehouse space called to mind a shabby, low-budget movie studio whose output features skanky porn. I kept looking down to make sure I wasn’t tripping over taped-down camera cords or writhing bodies. This essentially made the place perfect for Gossett to show her stuff -- stuff reminiscent of photographer Cindy Sherman and the movie-making side of Andy Warhol.
    On one screen, Gossett and another woman stood facing the camera or interacted with each other and a balloon (The Dance, 2016). Only their bodies were visible. They wore beige sports bras and “granny panties” made of that otherworldly stretchy fabric that is used for women’s underwear which, after repeated washings, turns amorphously beige no matter what pastel color it started out as.
    The background was beige. There was no intimate touch, only friendly pats or strokes. Sometimes the balloon would be squished between them, but nothing about the women or their movement was meant to be provocative.
    In conjunction with this was a series of laptops showing the online video chats that Gossett and her co-conspirator had with men over a period of eight hours. The men were able to watch the video and tell the women what to do. Then Gossett and her ally DID NOT do what was asked of them. Chats that started as complimentary (“you are very beautiful”) became insulting (“you b_tches”) when the men’s desires were not fulfilled.
    In a series of vignettes made to look like cheap porn flicks, Gossett and a friend become “Vivian and Veronica.” According to Gossett, these girls “like to be looked at.” Vivian and Veronica play out roles in what appears to be someone’s apartment with appropriate setting materials changed out -- well, stuck to the wall by the bookcase – for the different scenes. They are Catholic schoolgirls, vixens in animal print, and doctor and patient. The irony is that A LOT of action happens, but no PHYSICAL intimacy occurs. It is like Gossett wrote the playbook for “Lesbian Fantasy Interruptus” in order to, again, subvert that male gaze.

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Marcia McCoy, Ph.D.

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