Writer was ‘inspired by the most horrible thought she ever had,’ says New York Magazine
Emmy-winning Rachel Axler made her off-Broadway debut this week with Smudge, a dark comedy about a couple who give birth to a child with one eye, missing limbs and multiple disabilities. In an interview with New York Magazine, Axler says she wrote the play after reading about disability rights advocate Harriet McBryde Johnson, a lawyer and wheelchair user who publicly debated with philosopher Peter Singer about his view that parents of disabled infants should have the legal right to kill their children at birth.
The play gets its name from the word the parents use to describe an ultrasound photograph of their daughter.
Excerpts from the reviews:
Joe Dziemianowicz in the New York Daily News gives the play three stars.
“If awards were given for creating procreation anxiety, Smudge would be a shoo-in …
“… The condition of the never-seen baby divides Nick and Colby. He hovers, consumed by ‘Cassio’ even at work as a census taker. ‘Living is binary,” he says. ‘Zero or one. Black or white. You’ve got two choices – alive or dead. This is my daughter. She’s the gray area. Which would you choose? Zero or one?’ …
“… Axler’s a sharp writer, but one wishes that she came up with a resolution as gutsy as the rest of the play. Instead, Smudge goes out with a whimper.”
Rachel Saltz in the New York Times, under the headline “And one-eyed offspring makes three“:
“Parenthood never looked weirder or more terrifying than it does in Smudge, a new play by Rachel Axler at the Julia Miles Theater. Here are some of the things that Colby, a new mother, calls the thing she gave birth to: it, creature, hot dog, freak, smudge, a bunch of entrails in casing …
“What gives the play its charge is how Ms. Axler taps into a primal fear – giving birth to a monster – and then calmly considers it from all angles. She has a lightness of touch, especially in the scenes with Colby, that makes the dark undertow all the more affecting.”
Elisabeth Vincentelli in the New York Post gives the play two and a half stars. The headline: “Baby, you’re the beast”
“When it comes to fully reaping what she sowed, Axler falls short, as if cowed by the topics she’s brought up. Mental illness, the expectations placed on mothers, the very issue of what makes someone human are no small topics, but here they’re brushed off almost as soon as they’re raised.
“Not for nothing is the baby named Cassandra. Although it alludes to Greek tragedy, Smudge contents itself with dramedy.”
Jennifer Farrar in the Canadian Press:
“Overcome with bitterness, sarcasm and cheesecake binges, Colby initially ignores the baby. She cuts the sleeves and legs off all the pink and white onesies, saying, ‘It doesn’t have limbs, it doesn’t need sleeves,’ and secretly uses the fabric to make a stuffed toy she calls ‘Mister Limbs.’ When she finally approaches the pram, she waves Mister Limbs and seemingly taunts Cassie with it, saying, ‘He has everything you don’t.’
” … Together, these parents need to discover whether they can accept the child they produced and learn to love her just the way she is. Ultimately, Smudge is also about the complicated nature of love, what it means to truly become a parent and the resilience of the human spirit.”