SmudgePosted January 8th, 2010 by Sean Williams
It’s really interesting to look back on the people we knew when we were kids, and what we’ve all done since. Jordana was friends with Rachel Axler back in the day (whatever that means) and so we’ve been maybe more invested in her career than we would be in someone who’s work we admire, but whom we’ve never met.
It’s interesting to me, writing for different media. The people who like my blog seem to like it because I don’t seem to know how to write a “blog”, this thing mostly reads like you’re at my house, it’s two in the morning, we’ve been drinking, and you can’t get a word in edgewise. Which is pretty much what my life was like.
BEFORE I HAD A KID.
But I don’t really know how to switch hats for stuff. God help me, my business correspondence reads exactly the same as this blog. Which might explain my long and sordid history of being fired by people who like me…
Anyway, Rachel Axler wrote for The Daily Show for a number of years, and is now writing on what I feel pretty safe in describing as my favorite new TV show, “Parks and Recreation”. So, when we went to see her play last night, I figured it would probably be pretty funny, and probably have a lot of comedy arising from “situations”, if you will.
The truth is, she’s a playwright, with an MFA and everything, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when I got a seering and wrenching off-Broadway comedy last night. In Smudge we’re first introduced to a couple looking at an ultrasound. They can’t determine if the thing they’re looking at is a boy or a girl because there’s something wrong with the picture. It is smudged, apparently.
Then, the baby is born, and there was nothing wrong with the picture, there’s something desperately wrong with the baby. Soon, we’re moving back and forth between the office where the father, Nicholas (played really well by Greg Keller, doing a great Bill Pullman-esque study in controlled discomfort) works as a census taker, and the home.
The home is dominated by a large old-school pram, hooked up to tubes and wires and monitors, constantly beeping and bubbling. Trapped in the house is the child’s mother, Colby, played brilliantly by Cassie Beck. And this relationship here is where I felt the show moved from smart and fun to something really brilliant. I asked Jordana afterwards if Rachel had kids, and she said no… yet she perfectly captured the sheer horror of what it is to be trapped in a house with a newborn.
At different points in the show, each parent is standing over the pram, trying to get a reaction, trying to raise this child, to literally *RAISE* it, and it so perfectly encapsulates what so many of our generation are doing *right now*. I read somewhere that, for most of the 18th and 19th Century, in France, 90% of women gave their children to wet nurses until the kids were two or so, and, as cruel as it sounds, those parents had to have been more sane than those of us who stood over the crib screaming, “GROW! GROW! RESPOND TO ME!” It was chilling.
It was disappointing to see an off-Broadway show with basically no set at all. I totally get it, and they certainly got an awesome effect with the supernatural old-timey parambulator, but the “set” was simply boxes. My problem is… the father’s job as a census taker, and the references to “two point five kids” (when the child they have is missing limbs and obviously deformed) maybe wouldn’t have been a little too spot-on if they hadn’t had the set decorated with boxes covered in ones and zeros. There was no weight to the room, it looked as if the whole thing could just blow away, and it lent an air of a staged reading to the production.
There is a perfect marriage in this play of writing and actor with the third character in the piece, the uncle to the baby, Pete. Brian Scgambati plays this role perfectly. We can’t look at this couple and their child without looking at the rest of the world, and this obnoxious lout, himself a father of three, is the perfect foil. Not over-written, and not over-played, he could easily drift into some kind of caricature, but Scgambati has so much affection for the guy that his moments of human-ness and weakness are throat-catchingly lovely.
After the play, I thought about how hard it must have been for the writer to switch back from television to theater, but then I realized how stupid that is. The difference between the brilliant writing on The Daily Show and the brilliant writing on Parks and Recreation… She’s just fantastic, but she also *serves* what she’s writing for. There is such a fine line, you have to indulge your talent or you don’t have a point of view, but you also have to keep your audience in mind. Rachel is an old friend of my best friend, but I don’t believe we’ve ever even met, so I don’t think I’m clouded by personal fondness (as I so often am on this blog). I think she’s genuinely brilliant, and I’m so excited to get to be in the audience, whatever she’s doing.