When the bonds that hold the family together are broken, twisted, or begin to dissolve, what is the shape of the thing that’s left? Is it still a family, something less, or something more? This spring, Pinky Swear Productions presents three plays, including two world premieres by D.C. playwrights, that ask this question in the most startling of ways.
Today, we're featuring Smudge by Rachel Axler, which explores the awful question that keeps expectant parents up at night: What happens if your child isn’t the perfect bundle of joy you hoped for? What if it comes out…wrong?
Thoughts on Smudge from the Artistic Directors ...
JACQUELINE LAWTON: What excited you about programming SMUDGE by Rachel Axler as part of Pinky Swear Productions this season?
KAREN LANGE: It is a play that has to do with the fears all prospective parents cope with when deciding to have children. What could go wrong? What if I don’t love my baby? What if this is all completely different than I thought it would be? How does adding this person to my life change who I am? These are the things that keep people up at night. In Smudge, we have a play that brings all of those things front and center.
JACQUELINE LAWTON: What: If there is one thing you want audiences to walk away knowing or thinking about after experiencing SMUDGE, what would that be?
KAREN LANGE: I’d like people to walk away thinking about the complexities of parenthood and the way we bond with our children. Too many media representations are of the ideal, perfect family situation – like all families are secretly sitcoms and problems are wrapped up at the end of each half hour episode.
Thoughts on Smudge from the Director ...
JACQUELINE LAWTON: What excited you about directing SMUDGE by Rachel Axler at Pinky Swear Productions? What made you say yes?
RYAN MAXWELL: "Smudge" is a wonderful, complex, completely unexpected play: Offering a view of marriage and relationships that almost exclusively occupies territory unexplored in other works. I remember thinking it was one of the smartest scripts I'd read in a long time: Continuously playing with what is seen and unseen, and using the barrier between the two to tease and terrify the characters and, hopefully, the audience. As a playwright, Rachel Axler deals with parenthood, responsibility, maturity, and their attendant anxieties with a combination of wit, humor, and ambivalence that is rare and welcome. She takes the very human tale of a couple facing every new parent's worst fears and then presents it as a horror story wrapped in a fairytale.
JL: What has been the most challenging/exciting part of bringing SMUDGE to the stage?
RM: The most challenging aspect of the play for me is that balance of tone: Making sure that we always find the humor beneath the horror, and that the real human connections never get washed out by the fantastical elements. Those challenges are also the most exciting thing about the play: The chance to bring the audience through the trials and triumphs of the piece to this heightened place of hope, fear, anxiety, love, discovery, growth, and acceptance.
JL: If there is one thing you want audiences to walk away knowing or thinking about after experiencing SMUDGE, what would that be?
RM: Like all good plays, the ending of Smudge is really the beginning of a much longer story: We've seen this couple through the most tumultuous period of their lives, and at the last moment of the play they stand on the threshold of a new reality. Where do they go from here? What will they do? Will they make it? And for the audience: Would I make it? What would I do in their position? What would I do?
Thoughts on Smudge from the Playwright ...
Jacqueline Lawton: What do you hope to convey in the plays that you create--what are they about? What sorts of people, situation, circumstances, do you like to write about?
Rachel Axler: My favorite things in the world -- plays included -- are funny and surprising and beautiful. I like it when emotional or metaphysical scenarios manifest in some real, physical way. Realistic or grounded feelings in a slightly off-kilter or heightened world. A little magic never hurts.
JL: Tell us about your play, SMUDGE, and what inspired you to write it.
RA: Smudge is a play I wrote a few years back, prompted by the terrifying idea of a mother not connecting with or loving her own baby. We all have preconceived notions about how we'll feel as new parents -- or at least, I did -- but every new parent I've spoken with has been thrown for a loop by the realities of what a huge and remarkable responsibility it is to raise a child. Any child. Smudge was never intended to be about a specific situation or medical problem or abnormality -- each of the characters sees what he or she concocts or layers on to the baby. It was about parents, expectations and fear of disconnection.
JL: What excited you about having your play presented as part of Pinky Swear Productions?
RA: From what I've seen and read, Pinky Swear seems to choose challenging and exciting new work to present to its smart DC audiences. My play is in very good company!
JL: What do you hope audiences are thinking about after experiencing Smudge?
RA: I hope they feel that they can relate to the emotional reality of the characters. For a little while, a baby can be a tiny cipher in which we see our own love and worry reflected. I hope it inspires discussion or thoughts about people's own experiences as new parents, or that of friends or family. I hope they experience the play as a small, sometimes strange, sometimes lovely, memorable ninety minutes or fewer.
Pinky Swear’s Mission is to produce modern plays with strong, engaging women’s roles where people talk to each other and things happen. Our productions are a little funny, a little dark, and a lot entertaining. Our goals are to:
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I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!