“Smudge” is a new show now playing at Washington Ensemble Theatre (WET). It was written by former “Daily Show” writer (now with “Parks and Recreation”), Rachel Axler. It gets its name from a comment made when the two main characters, “Colby” and “Nick,” (played by Carol Thompson and Ash Hyman), a young married couple expecting their first child, get a glimpse at their soon-to-be baby’s ultrasound. 

Something doesn’t look quite right … Is that a penis or a leg? It’s a leg; girls don’t have penises. 

And thus begins Colby and Nick’s dilemma in this not-quite-funny, dark dramedy about a couple dealing with a severely disfigured, “special needs” baby.

In the beginning, it is Nick who tries most to bond with, what Colby not-so-fondly refers to as this “bunch of entrails in casing,” named Cassandra. Lovingly, he focuses on the one functioning body part over which Cassandra seems to have some control: her one, beautiful blue eye. Nick practices eye exercises with his daughter diligently in hopes of getting some response and physical engagement.

Meanwhile, Colby goes into complete dysfunctional mode, distancing herself from the baby and stuffing her emotions down with endless quantities of cheesecake, which she eats on the floor from the box. 

However, it is not the cooing and doting father who finally gets a response from the “freak” lying lifelessly in the bassinet, but rather Colby, whose emotional distance seems to incite Cassandra. Suddenly, the tubes coming from the bassinet light up profusely; the steadily beeping monitor that measures all of her bodily functions begins to sound wildly; Cassandra is alive and aware and trying to reach out, and her bleeping and flashing bassinet takes on a life of it’s own, becoming what could be considered the 4th character in this 3 person show. (The third character being that of “Pete,” the older brother of “Nick,” played by Noah Benezra.

The overall feel of this show is somewhat dark and sinister, but with a splash of lighter tones. This polar dynamic is also reflected in the dark lighting and set design that is counterbalanced with the brightness of the quasi-neon flashing bassinet. Set designer, Devin August Petersen, used the tiny space of the WET stage quite well, managing to take the audience from the labor room to the couple’s home to Nick’s office smoothly and efficiently.

The acting is solid and believable with strong performances given by all. Benezra as “Pete” was particularly funny.  In short, “Smudge” is a good way to spend 90 minutes enjoying some somewhat funny, somewhat dark, quirky theatre.

“Smudge” plays through April 22 and Washington Ensemble Theatre.

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