Christina Anderson’s HOW TO CATCH CREATION, now in its world premiere at Goodman Theatre, uses language that is simultaneously poetic and realistic in its exploration of legacy and artistic expression. The play centers on two generations of characters. We learn that these characters, though living several decades apart, are connected in unexpected ways. And each character longs to establish some kind of legacy, whether it be personal—in the form of children and loved ones—or professional—through works of art that will outlast the creator.
In 2014, Anderson introduces us to Tami (Karen Aldridge), a painter and director of an MFA painting program at a fictional university in a city resembling San Francisco. The play opens with an exchange between Tami and her friend Griffin (Keith Randolph Smith), who has been recently freed from wrongful incarceration and has decided he wants to have a child. While Tami grapples with how her artistic legacy might live on, Griffin hopes to put his life back together by starting a family to call his own. Simultaneously, a young couple, Riley (Maya Vinice Prentiss) and Stokes (Bernard Gilbert), grapple with their own questions about art and creative expression. Riley has yet to establish her career, though she has a Master’s degree in Computer Science, and Stokes is an aspiring painter, who begins to suffer artist’s block after being rejected from numerous MFA programs. To combat his woes, Stokes begins reading the work of writer G.K. Marche. The play jumps back in time to 1966, where we see G.K. (Jasmine Bracey) hard at work on the very novel that Stokes is reading, while she also navigates life with her girlfriend Natalie (Ayanna Bria Bakari).
With this setup, Anderson skillfully interweaves the stories of all her characters as they navigate the same questions about the kind of lasting impact they would like their life and work to have on the world. Under the direction of Niegel Smith, the ensemble delivers Anderson’s inventive dialogue at a natural cadence. But this realistic, grounded delivery doesn’t strip away the beautiful construction of Anderson’s play. Like any good work of art, HOW TO CATCH CREATION revisits several motifs throughout its course. The ways in which these themes emerge and remerge is one of the most surprising and delightful elements of the work.
HOW TO CATCH CREATION also explores the idea that the desire to create a lasting impact through art can be either helpful or detrimental to personal relationships. In one of the play’s early scenes, Riley appears in Tami’s office to challenge Stokes’s rejection from the MFA program at the university where she teaches. During that exchange, Riley notices a painting on Tami’s wall and asks about it. “To see that painting is to know someone created something because of you, for you. That’s a powerful thing,” Riley remarks. That line of dialogue encapsulates so much of what Anderson explores in the play.
The ensemble crisply delivers such lines. This is a company of actors that is clearly comfortable with one another and who understand the depths of their characters. Smith brings a tremendous energy to Griffin. He portrays Griffin as grounded and hopeful yet within that calm he also shows us the toll that wrongful imprisonment has naturally taken on his character. This echoes Anderson’s incorporation of the character’s experience in the script itself, thought-provoking without being overly didactic. Aldridge nails Tami’s dry wit and snarky line deliveries, while also showing us the vulnerabilities that lie beneath. Prentiss conveys all of Riley’s determination and her simultaneous struggle to still figure out exactly what she might want out of life. All of the actors give commendable performances and easily adapt to the cadence of Anderson’s speech, mining it for every bit of artistry without making it feel mannered.
In a play so much about artistic expression and identity, it’s fitting that the design elements are striking. Todd Rosenthal has designed one of his classic, magnificent turntable sets, alternating between the sleek, modern spaces of 2014 and G.K. Marche’s cluttered, book-filled office space in the 1960s. Jenny Mannis’s costumes are befitting of characters who would pay considerable mind to how they express themselves through clothing. Joanna Lynne Staub’s sound design and Justin Ellington’s original compositions add texture to Anderson’s already rich language and underscore many of the play’s themes.
HOW TO CATCH CREATION fundamentally explores the question of legacy and the human desire to leave something behind, and the play asks: Can personal and artistic legacy co-exist, or must we all make the choice to sacrifice one for the other? It’s a powerful question, and Anderson’s rhythmical language makes it all the more interesting to ponder.
HOW TO CATCH CREATION plays in the Albert Theatre at Goodman Theatre, 170 North Dearborn, through February 24. Tickets are $31-$85. Visit GoodmanTheatre.org/Creation or call 312.443.3800.
Photo Credit: Liz Lauren