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In 'Smudge,' Baby's disabled, and mom's not much better

Most couples look at the sonogram of their impending baby to see whether it's a boy or a girl. But when Colby and her husband, Nick, scrutinize the picture of the life in her womb for an answer to the "what is it?" question, they are appalled to realize that they mean it. Literally.

Rachel Axler's "Smudge," the very dark 90-minute comedy at the Women's Project, aims to be part horror movie, part domestic relationship drama. Their baby, a girl, arrives unbearably deformed, with no limbs and one big eye. Nick (Greg Keller) bonds with the unseen character in the pram encircled with tubes, and names her Cassandra. Colby (Cassie Beck, in another of her achingly honest performances) attempts to protect herself from the agony through brutal humor, maniacally snipping the arms off baby clothes and taunting the "smudge" until "it" miraculously responds. Or does it?

The plot is all too similar to Peter Nichols' 1967 "Joe Egg." Still, Axler, a former writer for Jon Stewart and current writer for NBC's "Parks and Recreation," combines breezy wit with enormous empathy for its inappropriateness. Director Pam MacKinnon's spare production neatly splits the action on stage between home, with its ominous breathing crib, and Nick's work as a family-census analyst.

"Smudge" asks useful questions about the value of life, but, ultimately, doesn't push them far enough. If Cassandra is named for the Greek prophetess whose warnings were ignored, the warnings here are unclear.

WHAT "Smudge"

WHERE Women's Project, 424 W. 55th St., Manhattan

INFO $52; 212-239-6200; womensproject.org

BOTTOM LINE The unthinkable, faced with wit but not enough depth

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