Review: Artists Grapple With Legacy of Children and Art in How to Catch Creation at Goodman Theatre

Photo by Liz Lauren

How to Catch Creation, a new play by Christina Anderson receiving a vibrant world premiere production at the Goodman Theatre, is a funny, oftentimes very moving play about the universal human desire to leave our mark on the world. Concerning a group of artists, thinkers and lovers in California, Creation manages to capture the ways in which the things we want are in tension with the things we have, while offering a compassionate glimpse into the African American experience in modern times.

Anderson introduces us to a tapestry of characters who criss-cross and intersect one another’s lives—there’s Griffin (Keith Randolph Smith), a lecturer who has decided he wants to have a baby (he hasn’t yet decided where the child will come from); his best friend Tami (Karen Aldridge), a painter and professor at a prestigious fine arts conservatory; Stokes (Bernard Gilbert), a young artist hoping to gain admission to the program; and his supportive, resourceful girlfriend Riley (Maya Vinice Prentiss), a computer wiz who has been stifling her own creative juices in service of her relationship. They are all connected, one way or another, through the novelist G.K. Marche (Jasmine Bracey), an influential feminist author (her story, along with that of her lover Natalie played by Ayanna Bria Bakari, is told in flashbacks set in the ’60s).

There’s a lot of plot here, and most of the play’s success relies on the audience receiving it in real time—director Niegel Smith keeps things clipping at a brisk pace, and his actors mostly handle the dense story and rapid-fire humor with levity and skill. The scenes in Creation shuffle through location after location, and Todd Rosenthal’s double turntable set shifts in and out of apartments, offices, parks and storefronts while the characters dip in and out of one another’s dramas. There’s an organic feeling to this scenic ebb and flow, and along with an energetic soundscape from designer Joanna Lynne Staub and composer Justin Ellington (Niegel Smith stages some excellent wordless tableaus to the music), the intertwining fate of our heroes lands with satisfying wit.

Literature, and especially novels, are central to the stories in Creation; Stokes finds a box full of Marche’s books on his way home one night, Riley is witness to the power of these novels on her lover, both Griffin and Tami are big fans of the author’s work, and we witness G.K. Marche finishing her second book while navigating her life with girlfriend Natalie. The attempt to understand one’s own purpose and worth through art, whether that is through making or ingesting, is constantly on the surface of Creation. Anderson positions her characters at creative and emotional roadblocks, these people are either in the middle or just beginning to break through a spiritual or existential drought. These men and women are attempting to understand their own narratives and grappling with legacy, and they look to their own inspiration and the work of those that came before them for guidance.

Anderson has crafted a rich tale here, and this Goodman cast seems perfectly aligned with the effervescent quality of her writing. However, act two, when the intertwining plots tangle further before loosening towards conclusion, could use a little editing. Creation is, in its current form, just a tad too long at 135 minutes (one intermission), a length that threatens to dull the impact of what up to then is such a satisfying dramedy. And I’m not convinced Anderson has figured out just how to use G.K. Marche, the author we see in flashbacks, to get at the heart of what she’s trying to say—also there’s a pretty major shift the actor must make to play some of Marche’s later scenes, and the opening night effect of the performance bordered on parody. But even so, Anderson and director Niegel Smith have infused this story with real heart and humor. With a few tweaks I think this could be a truly dynamite show.

How to Catch Creation continues through February 24 in the Goodman’s Albert Theatre. Tickets are $31-$85.

Matthew Nerber
Matthew Nerber

Matthew Nerber is a performer and theater artist in Chicago, and a former literary contributor with the Generation, the University at Buffalo’s longest running alternative newspaper. When not seeing or making theater, Matthew can be found at the Music Box or expanding his classic rock vinyl collection. He is a 2019 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.

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