REVIEWSREVIEWS BYTheatre ReviewsTom Williams


By Rachel Axlerka tet theatre

Directed by Allison Shoemaker

Produced by KA TET Theatre

At the Athenaeum Theatre, Chicago

Disturbing drama is tough to digest

The folks at KA TET Theatre have quietly amassed an nice body of work over the last few years in Chicago. Their latest work, Smudge, is a confounding, disturbing yet somehow intoxicating work that i wanted to hate but somehow I was drawn to the wacky work.  To quote the director Allison Shoemaker: “Smudge isn’t a drama, it’s not a comedy; it’s not realism nor is it fantasy.” I found it a far-fetched drama about what it is to be alive, to be human,  and to love another. It sure is one of those head-scratching plays that leaves us troubled, terrified and trembling as we leave the theatre. Yet, it is also a thought provoking piece that get us to challenge our basic beliefs especially on the nature of humanity.

ka tet theatre

Colby (Stevie Chaddock Lambert) is having a troubled pregnancy both physically and psychologically that has her dealing with nightmares and nasty thoughts. Nick (Scott Allen Luke) is the optimistic father who is enjoying being a first-time parent. But, when the child is born, it is a deformed entity with no arms nor legs with only one eye and not actual mouth. This ‘thing’ is referred to by Colby as a smudge (defined as : “To make dirty, especially in one small area or  to smear or blur (something).”

After a long ICU visit, Cassie, as Nick has named their child, is allowed to go home with breathing , feeding and defecating tubes with electric pumps attached. Cassie lives in a stroller. Nick tries to bond with her but Colby, totally distraught, refused to even look at Cassie.  Nick only ‘sees’ a beautiful creator but Colby sees a monster.

ka tet theatre

Much of the 90 minute on act is filled with Nick’s work as a data expert with the US Census Bureau where is obnoxious flippant brother and supervisor, Pete, (over played and totally irritating by Andrew Marchetti). Pete’s dialogue is goofy and wordy. I didn’t get the data subtext only his irritation because Nick has no photos of Cassie and that he has not invited their mother to see the baby. The attempts at humor by Pete’s character falls flat.

The expectations of what parenthood really is is put to the test as Nick continues to try to communicate and bond with Cassie while Colby spends her time eating cheesecake. Eventually, Colby does seem to get electric reactions (or does she?) as she forms a strange bond with her smudge.

I’ll not say more so as to not spoil the mysterious environment of this play. Is this a fantasy or a cruel reality? Why didn’t we learn anything about the medical prognosis for the child? Ultimately, Smudge is about life’s disasters that come along and how we learn to accept them. This play will shake you up and leave you both mad, sad, and questioning. But it is work seeing. I applaud the performance of Stevie Chaddock Lambert and the work of Dan Meisner as the Smudge Technician. Karen M. Thompson’s lighting and Robert P. Lloyd’s sound effects added much to the atmosphere. The stage craft here was outstanding. Too bad Rachel Axler’s script wondered adrift. This is a weird theatrical experience that begs to be witnessed.


Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: May 28, 2013

For more info checkout the Smudge page at

At Athenaeum Theatre, 2937 N. Southport, Chicago, IL, call 773-935-6875, tickets $25, $15 for students, seniors, industry,  Thursday thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2:30, running time is 90 minutes without intermission, through June 23, 2013

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