Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews

Smudge by Rachel Axler – Off Broadway Theater Review




picture - SmudgeTheater Review

by Andrew Turner

published January 17, 2009



now playing Off Broadway at the Julia Miles Theater

through February 7


Black Hole Comedy

Theater Review

by Andrew Turner


There are comedies and then there are dark comedies. Then there are comedies like Smudge, now playing Off-Broadway at the Women’s Project, which is so dark I can only describe it as “black hole” comedy.


Which is not to say I didn’t like it; but it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. In fact, the couple sitting in front of me was so outraged, I thought they might throw their programs at the actors at any moment and storm out.


The play, written by Emmy-award winning writer Rachel Axler, begins innocuously enough with a young married couple, Colby and Nick, getting ready to have a baby. The ultrasound, however, is a little… uninformative. They can’t quite make out important things on their baby, like individual limbs. But, hey, it’s only a test, right?  And the ob-gyn would have told them if something was seriously wrong. Right?


Needless to say, things go horribly wrong. What issues forth from Colby’s womb resembles no thing on Earth. The question Axler poses –a poignant, horrible question – is simply this: Could you love your child even if it was a monster?  


Despite the uber-dark subject matter, Axler manages to make the play funny. She knows how to balance dark moments with lighter ones, and to create characters we can relate to, despite the horrible things they do and say.


Of course, she is helped along through excellent direction by Pam MacKinnon and impeccable performances by all three of the actors. Greg Keller, who plays Nick the new father, is funny and affable. Cassie Beck delivers a strong performance as Colby, the new mother, and Brian Sgambati provides some much-needed comic relief as Pete, Greg’s cocksure and yet somehow endearing older brother.  The set is also sensational in a minimalistic, binary sort of way, and the baby carriage containing the “smudge” is a masterpiece in the art of prop construction.


Although this play is sure to make even the most black-hearted theatergoer cringe, it’s a must-see evening of theater. And as a testament to the power of the performance, even the couple in front of me couldn’t make themselves leave. Anyone who goes near this black hole of a masterpiece will get instantly sucked in.  


andrewturner @


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