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Examining a sonogram scan, Colby (Cassie Beck) and Nicholas (Greg Keller) seem perplexed. “Maybe it’s upside-down,” Colby suggests. “Maybe it’s just smudged.” Smudge, Rachel Axler’s black comedy about parenthood, is similarly indistinct. Though it flirts with satire and absurdism, it ultimately settles for a disappointingly conservative resolution.
Colby delivers a severely misshapen baby, a purplish girl possessed of no arms and a single vestigial leg. Nick is fascinated by it; Colby is repulsed and terrified. No surprise there. The child is represented by a Silver Cross pram kitted out like the Starship Enterprise, all wires and tubes and ominous beeping.
Under Pam MacKinnon’s direction at the Women’s Project, Beck, Keller, and Brian Sgambati (as Nick’s obnoxious older brother) all perform well, and Axler occasionally demonstrates why she has earned a couple of Emmys. The play is at its best when Axler uses lively language to detail Colby’s ambivalence, as when she torments the baby with a stuffed animal made entirely of arms and legs. “I call him Mister Limbs,” says Colby. “He has everything you don’t. Plus? Water-absorbent.” Alas, the play’s arc is rather soppy, and Axler’s barbs give way to a sentimental conclusion—trading unsettling dissonance for a stale lullaby.