note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
Not everything in life is perfect. Sometimes, things can go wrong, terribly wrong, as in Rachel Axler’s play, “Smudge,” which is surprisingly called a dark comedy.
After seeing the one-act, 90-minute play presented by Ghostlight Theatre Company at the Salem Theatre Company, I’m convinced it’s another chapter in the great American tragedy, a moving, deeply touching one at that.
Axler is a well-known writer, who has penned other plays, but caught audiences‘ and critics‘ eye and acclaim while writing for Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show,” Conan O’Brien’s Late Night show, Amy Poehler’s latest TV hit, “Parks and Recreation” and the 80th annual Academy Awards show. In Smudge,” (which she wrote in 2008 but debuted in New York City in 2010), Axler tackles the topic of young people facing and accepting responsibility, especially when life isn’t all rosy and sunshiny.
Colby and Nicholas, a happily married couple, eagerly anticipate the birth of their first baby, peering at an ultrasound image, trying to determine whether the fetus is a boy or a girl. The play fast-forwards to post-delivery, where Nicholas bills and coos at the baby through the hospital nursery window, while Colby won’t look at “it”.
Baby Cassandra has multiple problems - no limbs, one turquoise-colored eye, which Nicholas adoringly compares to the Caribbean Sea, and she is hooked up to a mass and tangle of wires, tubes, breathing apparatus that gratingly bleeps regularly, like a dripping faucet or IV drip, a constant reminder of the baby’s amorphous form, which Colby calls a “mangled mess,” comparing it to a jellyfish. She has given Cassandra a nickname - Smudge.
As Nicholas tries to work at home or in his office at the Census Bureau, which he shares with his jolly brother, Peter, he also works with the baby, doing eye exercises with a stuffed toy carrot, while Colby slips deeper into rejection and denial, stuffing herself with cheesecake. She turns her back on the baby, until strange things occur, including a momentary breakthrough. Is Colby coming apart? Is baby Cassandra responding in her own way? Can Nicholas maintain his upbeat attitude?
You must see “Smudge” to find out.
Salem Theatre’s cozy space is the ideal setting for this realistically dramatic contemporary play. It’s as though the audience is in the couple’s home or Nicholas’ office, sharing their pathos, pain, and emotional strain.
Axler piques everyone’s conscience, questioning what he/she would do under these circumstances, which thousands of couples endure - some gaining strength and understanding, while others crumble under deepening depression.
Ghostlight Director Devon Scalisi, formerly co-founder of Counter-Productions and award-winning actor while a student at Salem State (SSU), says the play, which examines the role of parenting, proves life doesn’t have to be perfect to be amazing.
He double-cast the young couple, and will mix things up before the play closes July 9, criss-crossing the couples. I saw Lauren Bambera (senior at SSU) and Michael Zuccola (also an SSU senior), who pack a dramatic wallop here. Georgetown resident Mark Morrison is dynamic as Pete, providing comedic relief at times - until he ultimately sees Cassandra for himself. Lowell resident Marc Pelletier and SSU graduate Anny Rosario are the alternating couple.
BOX INFO: One-act, 90-minute play, written by Rachel Axler, presented by the Ghostlight Theatre Company of New Hampshire, appearing through July 9 at the Salem Theatre Company, 90 Lafayette St., Salem. Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, 5 p.m. Tickets: $18; seniors, $15; students,$10. Call 978-790-8546, visit www.salemtheatre.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.