BRINGING ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM TO THE FORE
by William Gooch
published March 30, 2009
now playing Off Broadway at Playwrights Horizons
through April 5
I must admit that my appetite was whetted when I read the press release for Inked Baby.
Because I grew up in a town in North Carolina where toxic waste had contaminated the soil and drinking water of many of the inhabitants, I
was curious to see how the playwright would handle this timely, combustible subject. If audiences are looking for a play about strained
black relationships, Inked Baby does not disappoint.
Christina Anderson has written some of the best dialogue I have heard Off-Broadway in a while, detailing how African American
families relate to each other in a time of crisis. She organically understands the cadence and rhythm of African American vernacular
without sacrificing clarity and integrity. Hers is a focused commentary on what ails black couples without attempting easy solutions.
Anderson cleverly uses the dynamics that is created by a marriage that has outgrown its usefulness as a backdrop to talk about
If there is one drawback to Inked Baby, it is the lack of black rage at the chemical
plant that has contaminated their neighborhood. It is at this point in this well-oiled
production that Inked Baby falls flat. Inked Baby has
such good stagecraft, and the characterizations are so true to form, that it is surprising that Anderson does not incorporate black anger at
the white establishment. Believe me, black folks would’ve been mad as all hell, and a couple of protest banners would not have sufficed as a
call to solidarity.
Director Kate Whoriskey has assembled a terrific cast with each actor bringing a unique authenticity to their portrayal. As the
barren wife Gloria, Tony Award-winner LaChanze presents a character that has tried to live by rules that don’t work for her anymore. In an
effort to save her failing marriage, Gloria persuades her younger sister Lena—expertly portrayed by Angela Lewis—to act as a surrogate.
LaChanze brings a desperate longing to her character. This is a woman who seemingly has shut down sexually and is only going through the
routine busyness of life.
The other standouts in the cast are Damon Gupton as Gloria’s husband, Greer, and Nikkole Salter as Lena’s round-the-way
homegirl, Ky. If Inked Baby is any indication of Ms. Anderson’s talent, she will have a
bright future in the theatre, and Playwrights Horizons should be commended for supporting a playwright that is tackling the not-sexy
subject of environmental racism.
williamgooch @ stageandcinema.com