‘How to Catch Creation’ asks many questions and the answers may surprise you

SHARE ‘How to Catch Creation’ asks many questions and the answers may surprise you
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Bernard Gilbert (as Stokes, left) and Keith Randolph Smith (as Griffin) in the world premiere of “How to Catch Creation” by Christina Anderson directed by Niegel Smith at the Goodman Theatre. | Liz Lauren

Legacy and connection. The drive for both — the need to leave a mark when we’re gone, the desire to know we’re not alone while we’re alive — propels human nature. Both are at the pulsing heart of Christina Anderson’s “How to Catch Creation,” now getting its world premiere at the Goodman Theatre.

Polished to a sheen of warmth and wit by director Niegel Smith, it’s a drama packed with recognizable people grappling with the Big Issues. You may not know the six characters whose lives play out over 44 years in “How to Catch Creation.” But you will either know someone like them or you are someone like them. It’s a cliché to say that everyone is connected. “How to Catch Creation” transcends clichés in exploring how those connections define us.

‘How to Catch Creation’ ★★★1⁄2 When: Through Feb. 24 Where: Goodman Albert Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn Tickets: $20 – $70 Info: GoodmanTheatre.org

The production isn’t perfect. Throughout, Todd Rosenthal’s elaborate set threatens to overshadow the people within it. In terms of sheer plotting, Anderson hedges within a hairsbreadth of contrived. But even the most contrived meetings and heightened emotions are rooted in truth.

The plot hinges on seemingly random, inconsequential encounters among strangers. Each passing glance is loaded, each meeting fraught with hidden relationships and unexpected revelations. It all seems unlikely until you consider this: If you mapped out a diagram of your life – or anybody’s life for that matter – it would be riddled with wholly unlikely coincidences and unexpectedly overlapping circles.

As “How to Catch Creation” moves back and forth over 44 years, the audience gets a long-view perspective the characters on stage can’t see. Legacy isn’t a fixed entity that one person leaves behind. It’s a spectrum of things on a bumpy, twisting timeline that reaches back to your ancestors and forward to your descendants, be they blood – or chosen family.

Anderson bookends the drama with two characters who each decide they want to have a baby. Thankfully, Anderson has more on her mind than the procreation part of creation. Here, the creative spark takes myriad forms.

At the end of the first act, Anderson’s characters capture that spark as it ignites. A series of wordless scenes float apart and then interlock like puzzle pieces. There’s a novelist at a typewriter, another at a computer decades later. There’s a painter at her canvas, a beatbox artist writing a song and two women triumphantly dancing before an easel. There’s Griffin (Keith Randolph Smith), the man who wants the baby, pleading his case with an adoption attorney.

It’s an elegantly rendered, richly detailed depiction of the bonds that keep humans from floating off into their own little worlds of isolation, even when (especially when) they aren’t even aware that bonds exist.

For Anderson’s characters (as for most humans), those bonds are interwoven with the universal desire not to vanish without a trace. Griffin wants to be a father. But as a late-fortysomething, single black man recently released after 25 years of wrongful incarceration, Griffin faces a wall of suspicions and assumptions about who should and shouldn’t be allowed to raise a child.

Maya Vinice Prentiss (as Riley) and Karen Aldridge (as Tami) in a scene from “How to Catch Creation” at the Goodman Theatre. | Liz Lauren

Maya Vinice Prentiss (as Riley) and Karen Aldridge (as Tami) in a scene from “How to Catch Creation” at the Goodman Theatre. | Liz Lauren

Smith’s performance makes it clear that Griffin is no embittered victim. He’s funny, loved and smart, uplifted and held by his friends, Tami (Karen Aldridge, believable as a powerful academic and a flirt with an end-goal) chief among them.

A chance encounter on a park bench begins a friendship between Griffin and Stokes, (Bernard Gilbert, wide-eyed in the way of twentysomethings confident that the best is yet to come), a young artist with a passion for the novels of one G.K. Marche (Jasmine Bracey).

Stokes’ partner Riley (Maya Vinice Prentiss) is forging her own path, one which keeps intersecting with Tami. Marche, meanwhile, brings the action back to 1966, as she and her partner Natalie (Ayanna Bria Bakari) navigate a romance that will have a lasting, direct impact events decades later.

As the timeline jumps between decades, the center of the action keeps shifting. At times, Griffin forms the nexus. At others, Marche feels like the central figure. Sometimes, it’s Natalie. It’s an astute reflection of another aspect of the human condition: We all think we’re the one at the center of everything.

There’s a scene where Riley talks about how the certainties of her life — the hopes, ambitions and desires that drive her — are no longer so certain. Things have begun shifting, she says. You can hear unexpected wonder in that realization. That same tone is in the final moment of the play, when Griffin is joined in his ardent wish for children.

The start of a friendship, the decision to build a new life or abandon an old one — these are all acts of creation in Anderson’s world. What she achieves is a moving portrait of people building their life stories, sometimes with great intent and sometimes without even realizing it. Creation isn’t always obvious here. But it’s constant. Like everyone, these characters don’t anyways understand the cumulative impact of their daily decisions. Anderson’s big picture shows that creation never really stops, even when you’re oblivious to it.

Catey Sullivan is a local freelance writer.

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