|MANIC COPING. Alex Bulmer's Smudge makes excellent use of sound.(Image by Xtra files)||
story by Elisa Kukla /
Nov 30 2000
Smudge, by Alex Bulmer, blurs the line between internal and external vision as it draws the audience into the world of a character who is losing her eyesight.
The production opens with Freddie (played by Diane Flacks) being diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a degenerative eye disease that, in her case, leads inexorably to blindness. As Freddie’s vision deteriorates, her imagination blossoms and her other senses grow more and more vivid.
Freddie is an urban lesbian who likes to go to cafés and dyke bars, but these environments become increasingly difficult for her to navigate. Meanwhile, her relationship with girlfriend Katherine (Kate Lynch) is disintegrating along with her eyesight and she teeters on the brink of isolation.
Bulmer’s script, which was inspired by her own experience of going blind, is emotionally raw and unsentimental. Grief permeates the production, but the script is not heavy-handed. The absurdity of Freddie’s situation is apparent in many scenes, such as when she accidentally grabs a woman’s chest in a bar.
Smudge succeeds at communicating a sense of the experience of going blind to a primarily sighted audience, because of Alisa Palmer’s expert direction. Palmer has brought the script to life with a lush production that sensually depicts Freddie’s shifting perception.
As the play progresses, and Freddie’s eyesight fails, the people and things that populate her world recede behind a foggy screen. Light and shadow play fitfully across the stage conveying Freddie’s confusion and splintering vision.
The noises in Freddie’s world grow in volume and intensity as sound becomes increasingly central to her. Palmer and Bulmer worked closely with sound designers John Gzowski and Debashis Sinha to create this brilliant soundscape which, in many ways, is the heart of the production.
Diane Flacks’ performance as the self-reliant Freddie is believable and never over-stated. Kate Lynch and Sherrylee Hunter deftly portray numerous characters in Freddie’s world, including nosy strangers, doctors and therapists.
Lynch’s performance as Freddie’s girlfriend Katherine is the strongest in the show. She subtly brings to life an emotionally repressed and pragmatic character who wants to treat Freddie’s encroaching blindness as a problem, like any other, to be dealt with logistically.
The biggest flaw of this tight 60 minute production is that we are left wanting more. Freddie’s relationship to Katherine could be fleshed out, her steps towards coping are rushed and her sense of closure in the final scene feels abrupt and artificial.
Still, this is an impressive debut for a first-time playwright. Bulmer has used her own unusual story to explore dramatic themes that any audience can readily relate to. In the end, Smudge is a play about an overwhelming loss and the humour and pain of the mourning process.