About 30 minutes into Christina Anderson’s Inked Baby, the Lifetime-esque domestic drama suddenly takes a turn into X-Files territory when an unnamed virus breaks out in a low-income African-American suburb. The cause turns out to be nothing sci-fi, though, just all-too-real toxic waste—lending the play added dimensions of race and class, as both the economic and ecological environments poison the characters at every turn. After repeated miscarriages, middle-school teacher Gloria (played by LaChanze) remains determined to raise a child in her father’s house, even though the soil beneath it may have rendered her infertile. She turns to her sister, Lena (Angela Lewis), as an affordable surrogate, but when artificial insemination proves too costly, she allows her husband to impregnate Lena more, um, directly, despite the emotional baggage bound to ensue. (And it does.) For Lena, the job of human incubator brings her back to the community after being laid off in the big city.
Anderson’s oblique indictment of “environmental racism” does not make her characters any less tangible or touching, especially when so sharply drawn by the accomplished cast under Kate Whoriskey’s mostly fluid direction. The pace sometimes lags and the quiet tone rarely varies, yet underneath the unremarkable surface lies a sophisticated and haunting political allegory.