“Inked Baby” is the third Christina Anderson play to be produced by Crowded Fire Theater, following 2009’s “Drip” (the same year that “Inked Baby” premiered) and “Good Goods” in 2012.
I mention “Drip” and “Good” because my expectations were high. I raved about both those productions. But I’m not going to rave about “Inked Baby.” In terms of complexity of characters and plot it simply doesn’t match up.
Nor does Crowded Fire’s cast, under Lisa Marie Rollins’ otherwise fine staging, match up to the acting in the other two plays.
Three separate, meant-to-be-intertwined stories comprise “Inked Baby.”
In one, Lena (a luminous, endearing Leigh Rondon-Davis) becomes pregnant by her brother-in-law, Greer, because she has agreed to do so as a favor to her sister, Gloria (Christell Lewis), who’s infertile. The sisters are not especially close, but Lena empathizes with the couple’s desire to create a family.
When Greer says to Lena, as they prepare for the one-time sex act (beautifully staged), that he feels like they’re Adam and Eve, she promptly responds, “There’s a snake in that story,” so we know things will not go well.
A link, that’s weak, connects Gloria’s infertility to the second story, which explores, in theatrically dramatic and at times compelling ways, an environmental contamination that exists in this African-American neighborhood.
Indeed, the very house where the couple plans to raise a family — Gloria’s childhood home — is possibly polluted.
But in addition to the unexplored relationship between the two sisters, there’s a third thread, also insufficiently explored, in which Gloria and Greer’s marriage falls apart over the course of Lena’s more-than-10-month gestation period.
Anderson’s effort to connect the dots among all three stories, to suggest how an all-too-common and potentially deadly exploitation of the black community might affect, in multiple ways, a family’s struggle to sustain a legacy, ends up feeling sketchy, even shallow.
We don’t get to know any of the characters well enough, and that includes Lena’s best friend, Gloria’s (spoiler alert) lover and two medical people.
And a scene in which Greer has a drunken discussion with, yes, a pretzel, while well-acted by David Everett Moore, doesn’t help matters.
If the acting is uneven (tending toward overkill) and the writing thin, still, Rollins keeps the action moving briskly. Scenes blend into one another seamlessly; designer Celeste Martore’s tidy, multi-locale set is excellent; and Anderson’s ideas are provocative, worthy of more in-depth development.
Presented by Crowded Fire Theater
Where: Potrero Stage, 1695 18th St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Oct. 5
Tickets: $10 to $35
Contact: (415) 523-0034, crowdedfire.org