Most of us wear the scars of relationships that have ended badly. Luckily, Kay has never been burdened with a messy breakup. Her boyfriends just die.
Such is the “curse” carried by the protagonist of Tracy Hoida’s Kill You With My Love, presented by Cincinnati-based Muwhahaha Productions and performed at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. Kay (Sarah Willis) has managed to off three lovers, with varying degrees of culpability: A teenage romance, ended by a fall from a ramshackle hunting blind. A college crush, more or less pushed to his death in a condemned building. And an amorous attorney, who has a grisly encounter with a flight of steps.
We experience these deaths in dreamy monologues delivered by the beaus, played ably by Richard Buchanan, Damien Boykin and Rory Sheridan. In alternating scenes, a wary Kay prepares to skip town in defiance of a parole sentence for manslaughter. As she hurriedly packs her belongings, Kay is interrupted by impromptu visits from three other suitors. The passionate young woman of the ill-fated, earlier romances has all but disappeared in contemporary Kay, who has the crass veneer of someone who refuses to let anyone get close again.
Despite the body count, the play never becomes campy. Director Carolyn Guido Clifford can be credited for maintaining this naturalism while keeping the pace brisk. One-liners effectively break up the drama in the piece; all the jokes landed for an enthusiastic opening night audience. Boykin offers a standout turn as both a wayward film student and Kay’s earnest coworker, Henry. The always-memorable Sheridan adds jagged danger to the piece as an intense (and concerningly asthmatic) cop.
But Kill You With My Love does have some structural challenges. Scene changes are signaled largely by Kay placing different records on a portable player, part of a delightful sound design that includes Carole King and The Everly Brothers. With the male actors doubling as both past victims and current visitors to Kay’s apartment, I initially struggled to discern who was who, as well as the play's timeline. A larger space — and more robust lighting design — may give the production team more tools to work with down the road. Willis also has a heavy lift as time-traveling Kay. I would have liked to see more of the magnetism that drew these six men to her, perhaps offering stronger payoff on her arc of withdrawal.
With a macabre plot, groovy tunes, sturdy performances and a complex female lead, Kill You With My Love is well worth a spot on your Fringe itinerary.