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Review: AtticRep’s delves darkly comic depths in ‘Smudge’

BY DEBORAH MARTIN
DLMARTIN@EXPRESS-NEWS.NET
AUGUST 25, 2011

AtticRep‘s “Smudge” opens with a burst of music, courtesy of Jeremiah Teutsch, that sounds a bit like something that would play under a fairy tale. The sound is somewhat whimsical, and there’s a hint of birdsong in the mix.

It sets a playful tone for the surreal dark comedy that follows.

The play, written by Rachel Axler and directed by Roberto Prestigiacomo, is about Colby (Susanna Morrow) and Nick (Ross Everett Olsaver), a couple whose lives are upended when she gives birth to a one-eyed creature that she can’t bear to call a baby.

Nick gets a bit of a break from the tense situation at home when he goes to work. He works for the Census Bureau alongside his gregarious brother Pete (Brad Milne).

Meanwhile, Colby spends much of her time snipping the sleeves from baby clothes and stitching the openings closed: “It doesn’t have limbs, it doesn’t need sleeves.”

Nick and Colby both try, in their own way, to forge relationships with the infant, though their approaches differ: He’s smitten by the child’s bright blue eye and tries to fine ways to engage her, while she is more adversarial.

It builds to a pitch-perfect ending, well-played by Morrow and Olsaver.

The performances are layered across the board. Olsaver paints Nick as a seeker trying to find a positive way forward; Morrow gives many of her lines a barbed quality while also offering glimpses of her vulnerabilities. She also puts her skills as a dancer to good use, giving physical expression to Colby’s emotions. And Milne gives Pete a frat boy energy that suits someone who says, “I wish we were still kids, so I could beat you up.” There’s a touch of bullying to it, but Pete’s affection for his brother is never in doubt, either.

The action plays out on a visually exciting set — designed by Rick Frederick in collaboration withJade Townsend and Teutsch, with playful animated elements by Emily Barker — that spins off from elements pulled from Townsend’s installation “An Allegory of Taste: Between Here and There,” which was commissioned by the McNay Art Museum for the “New Image Sculpture” show earlier this year. Wooden renderings of home furnishings — including a couch, a lamp and a television — are heaped behind three segments of a house frame. The furniture is suspended in the air as if frozen in the midst of a vortex, an apt visual for the Nick and Colby’s situation.

Townsend also designed the carriage, a scary, oversized conveyance with a heart monitor and all sorts of cords snaking out from it.

The production is darkly funny, thought provoking and well worth catching.

“Smudge” can be seen at 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 4 at the Attic Theatre at Trinity University. Tickets cost $10-$20. Call 210-999-8524 for reservations or visit atticrep.org to buy tickets online.

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