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Originally published Friday, April 5, 2013 at 5:01 AM

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‘Smudge’ at WET: a blur more than a comedy

A review of Rachel Axler’s “Smudge,” on stage at Washington Ensemble Theatre through April 22, 2013.

Special to The Seattle Times

THEATER REVIEW

‘Smudge’

By Rachel Axler. Through April 22 at Washington Ensemble Theatre, 608 19th Ave. E., Seattle; $15-20 (206-325-5150 or www.washingtonensemble.org).

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Like all expectant parents, Colby and Nick are fascinated by the ultrasound image of their soon-to-be-born baby, even though they can’t make out any features. Oh well, it’s just an ultrasound; maybe the baby was turned in an odd way. Unfortunately, the ultrasound was right on. Colby gives birth to “smudge,” a creature with no limbs, a misshapen head, one ultramarine eye and a blob for a body.

Playwright Rachel Axler characterizes this as a black comedy. Unfortunately for the audience at this Washington Ensemble Theatre staging, there’s too little comedy and too much angst.

Instead of focusing in on one or more of its underlying issues, the play is a haphazard collection of unrealized concepts. It might have explored the limits of love, how we value each other, the impact of parenthood on a marriage, the definition of personhood. It does none of that. The author has paired reality and absurdity, but here they are uncomfortable bedfellows.

Director Erin Kraft offers a production that’s part domestic drama and part horror movie. Carol Thompson plays Colby, the horrified mother, who can’t bear to touch the “creature” or to recognize it as a human baby. Thompson draws our sympathy, but it’s not absolutely clear whether her response is outrage, horror, sadness or disgust.

Nick (Ashton Hyman) loves his child. He coos at the bassinet within which the smudge lies, brings it a toy and makes all the noises a new loving daddy would make. Meanwhile, from the bassinet emerge tubes and fluid containers that supposedly keep the smudge alive, as well as strange lights and electronic noises.

Noah Benezra, as Nick’s bear of a brother, can’t utter a sentence that doesn’t have a punch line. He provides the comic element.

Despite the dependable acting, whatever the playwright hoped to accomplish isn’t clear in this production.

Nancy Worssam: ngworssam@seattletimes.com

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