Ka-Tet's SMUDGE Goes To Dark Places
There is much emotional uneasiness during the 90 minutes that makes up the Chicago premiere of Ka-Tet Theatre's Smudge. This three person work by Rachel Axler explores the parental depths of despair when the birth of a baby goes terribly wrong. We first see new parents-to- be Nick (Scott Allen Luke) and Colby (Stevie Chaddock Lambert) trying to decipher their imminent arrival's ultrasound. Their daughter is then born without three limbs and eye (if only Dr. Rudy Wells and Oscar Goldman were present, there would have been a different outcome for sure). Natural paternal and maternal instincts are tested as each has to find a way to bond and nurture the newborn.
Directed by Allison Shoemaker with a devout cast of very capable actors, the problem with Smudge is that it is hard to connect or find empathy with any of the characters in what is surely the most empathetic of situations. This is a scriptural problem from the outset and only gets more disorienting as the play progresses. In fact at some points, as with the baby's crib is beeping and lighting up incessantly, the realism of the piece gets lost in a myriad of almost science fiction proportions.
The lead actors do delve into the darkness of the work with great effort. Mr. Luke and Ms. Lambert go into some very black places in their interpretations and turn in two gritty and honest performances. Then there is Andrew Marchetti who, as Nick's brother and boss, seems to think he is there for comic relief. His character interpretation along with the director allowing the actor's choices, makes no sense to the story proper and creates even a bigger disconnect between the audience and the characters.
Axler's play, though exposing a very interesting topic for the theatre, in the end seems unfinished. Perhaps that is what the playwright intended, but for the piece to work in something more than a fringe festival atmosphere, then more connective character development needs to be created to achieve the needed emotional impact of lives turned upside down from what should be the most happiest of events.
Smudge plays through June 23, 2013 at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2937 N. Southport, Chicago, IL, call 773-935-6875, www.athenaeumtheatre.org, tickets $25, $15 for students, seniors, industry, Thursday theu Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2:30, running time is 90 minutes without intermission. For calendar information please visit www.TheatreInChicago.com