Inked Baby @ Playwrights Horizons, New York

cast list
LaChanze, Angela Lewis, Damon Gumpton, Nikkole Salter, Che Ayende

directed by
Kate Whoriskey
Inked Baby is the debut play of Christina Anderson who is, on the strength of this, an exciting and fresh new voice for theatre.

Well written and beautifully acted, the play examines a complicated situation that yields unintended repercussions for all involved.

Gloria (played by LaChanze, whose last role on Broadway in The Color Purple won her the Tony) is a strong willed woman who cant carry a child to term.

So she enlists her younger sister Lena, to conceive a child with her husband Greer. Lena plans to let Greer and Gloria adopt and raise the child as their own.
The play opens with Lena and Greer (deftly played by Angela Lewis and Damon Gupton) about to have sex in the hope of conceiving. Even in this most intimate of moments, the shadow of Gloria hangs over them as both a benevolent loved one and as a taskmaster: she has given them 45 minutes to wrap it up.

For a while things progress in a predictable manner. Lenas pregnancy and constant presence in the home causes friction and pushes the married couple apart. But though the situation is not original it is beautifully acted by both Lewis and Gumpton, with excellent support from Nikkole Salter as Lenas friend, who provides a vital outlet from the hothouse of her sisters home.

But just when things were starting to feel familiar, Anderson steers events down an unexpected path, and the actors more than rise to the task. Complications arise in the health of everyone except the expectant mother. An unexplained virus attacks the health of family and friends, piling more angst onto a burdened group of people.

The main joy of this play is in its realistic voice. The characters emotions run close to the surface, but there hints of other, more deeply buried things. Both love and anger are expressed in turns by all parties and it is clear the characters don’t always understand the emotions they feel so strongly.

Although dramatic in theme, the play also contains plenty of organically happy, funny and touching moments, keeping the tone varied and fresh.

Eventually Gloria learns to relax, albeit a bit too artificially at the hands of a tattoo artist she meets by happenstance and continues to see. The situation is a little too pat, a bit too How Stella Got Her Groove Back. But it is a joy to see LaChanze finally bring out other emotions beneath her character’s cold, controlling and unemotional surface. She skillfully shows us the gradual awaking of the girl she was before miscarriages and infertility made her question her womanhood.

The director Kate Whoriskey, whose excellent production Ruined is presently at the Manhattan Theater Center, keeps the play from dragging or resorting to caricature. However, for all its strengths, the ending of the play proved frustrating. Credit to Ms. Anderson for not giving glib answers, but the play ends without a satisfying resolution. After laying out so many excellent issues and questions, the play only answers a few of them, and not in a believable manner.

The ending is the one part of the show that struck me as forced and constructed, that didn’t seem to blossom naturally from these characters. And it is painful to say, given how much I’d enjoyed certain aspects of the play, that it is this sense of dissatisfaction that stayed with me after the end of the show, eclipsing much of the nuance that came before.

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