BWW Review: HOW TO CATCH CREATION at Goodman Theatre
In HOW TO CATCH CREATION, a world premiere at Goodman Theatre, playwright Christina Anderson tackles universal themes: the desire for human connection, the pursuit of creative and intellectual passions, and the longing to leave a meaningful legacy. Niegel Smith directs this intricately crafted tale, which spans five decades and follows six Black American artists whose paths intersect in surprising ways.
The play begins in 2014 and is set in a fictional city, modeled after San Francisco, where we meet Griffin (Keith Randolph Smith) and Tami (Karen Aldridge), two long-time friends in their forties. Following his release from a 25-year incarceration for a crime he did not commit, Griffin works as an adjunct lecturer, drawing on his extensive studies of Black feminist literature whilst in prison. In addition, Griffin's latest pursuit is fatherhood-a challenging endeavor for a single, middle-aged man who has served time. Tami chairs the art department at a local university, though her own inspiration as a painter has run dry in recent years, a trend linked to a painful past relationship.
With a smooth turn of Todd Rosenthal's double revolving set, the scene changes to an apartment shared by Stokes (Bernard Gilbert) and Riley (Maya Vinice Prentiss), a couple in their late 20s. Stokes, a painter, recently has applied to more than a dozen graduate programs without success. Riley, a computer programmer with a latent passion for music, takes it upon herself to campaign for Stokes' admittance into the art school where Tami works, thus setting into motion a chain of events that bring these four characters together.
The third plotline, which leaps back to 1966, is that of author G.K. Marche (Jasmine Bracey) and her partner, Natalie (Ayanna Bria Bakari). While these two women navigate the challenges of a lesbian relationship in 1960s America, Natalie also struggles with loneliness as G.K. becomes increasingly consumed by her writing. Their story takes surprising twists and turns (not to be revealed here), with consequences that spiral through the decades to affect the lives of Griffin, Tami, Stokes, and Riley.
Anderson proves herself an adept storyteller as she weaves these threads into a cohesive whole. Director Niegel Smith compares the play's structure to that of a symphony, and the simile is apt. The rhythm of her language and thematic parallels of her plots shine during several cleverly constructed scenes in which two sets of characters mirror each other's dialogue and actions. Self-admittedly, music is integral to Anderson's writing process, and the play's soundscape is realized by Joanna Lynne Staub's sound design and Justin Ellington's original music. Better experienced than described, the stunning finale of Act One displays this creative team's collaborative efforts at their finest.
Further, the ensemble cast members inhabit Anderson's complex characters with authenticity and sympathy. While Keith Randolph Smith and Karen Aldridge stand out as Griffin and Tami, there is no weak link in this cast. As Anderson teases out the backstories and motivations of each character, the actors keep pace and deliver believable, and often poignant, performances. It would be difficult for anyone to encounter these six individuals without finding something relatable in one or more of their stories. And, taken collectively, Anderson creates a tapestry that reveals the infinite ways in which ordinary lives are interconnected. Truly, in John Donne's words "no man is an island," and that is a comforting thought.
HOW TO CATCH CREATION plays through February 24 at Goodman Theatre, 170 North Dearborn, Chicago, IL 60601. Tickets are available at 312.443.3811 or goodmantheatre.org.
Photo credit: Liz Lauren
Review by Emily McClanathan