Goodman's 'How to Catch Creation' explores love, legacy and inspiration
"How to Catch Creation" - ★ ★ ★ ½
Don't be surprised if Christina Anderson's "How to Catch Creation," now receiving a sterling world-premiere production at Chicago's Goodman Theatre, brings to mind the 1984 musical "Sunday in the Park with George." I made that connection, a compliment to both introspective and ingeniously crafted creations.
Stylistically, the two works couldn't be more different. But "How to Catch Creation" shares many of the same thematic sentiments on parental and artistic legacies expressed in the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical -- particularly the raison d'être song "Children and Art."
"How to Catch Creation" focuses on African-American artists, lovers and friends living in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2014. Yet a feminist author's literary responses to the 1960s Civil Rights movement also end up inspiring Anderson's contemporary characters.
From the outset, 47-year-old motivational speaker Griffin (Keith Randolph Smith) announces his desire to raise a child. This surprises Griffin's pessimistic friend, lesbian artist and college administrator Tami (Karen Aldridge). She zeros in on Griffin's age as one of many potential drawbacks.
Meanwhile, the young artist Stokes (Bernard Gilbert), stung by yet another art college rejection letter, becomes enraptured by the out-of-print works of author G.K. Marche (Jasmine Bracey). As Stokes retreats into reading, his queer-identified computer scientist girlfriend, Riley (Maya Vinice Prentiss), is spurred into action on his behalf.
The play also flashes back to 1966, showing Marche living with her seamstress lover, Natalie (Ayanna Bria Bakari). Increasingly the two women spar as Marche's devotion to her work starts to outshine her affection for Natalie.
Much of the joy of "How to Catch Creation" flows from Anderson's plotting of her characters' lives and how they intersect in unexpected ways. Some may find these connections too coincidental and pat, but Anderson thoughtfully shows how the metaphorical and biological seeds sown in one generation can impact and create legacies for those in the future.
Director Niegel Smith and his emotionally connected cast revel in Anderson's comic and serious examinations on the messiness of love, friendship and artistic inspiration. They're as adept at winning laughs as they are at prodding tears from their audience.
"How to Catch Creation" is also blessed with a superlative design team that literally keeps everything spinning. Set designer Todd Rosenthal ingeniously uses two massive turntables to cinematically switch from detailed location to location, while lighting designer Allen Lee Hughes' fine work helps to keep focus. Costume designer Jenny Mannis stylistically delineates the different eras with her mix of contemporary and 1960s period outfits.
While the play mainly explores creativity and generational legacies, Anderson also touches on racial injustice and societal biases, even if her 2014 setting conveniently allows her characters not to be caught up in today's divisive politics.
In many ways, "How to Catch Creation" is an entertaining and emotional escape to a place where muses, both young and old, can spur artists to create and contextualize their world. And if you see links between this show and its forbearers, that's just another example of how one artistic generation can connect to another.
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Location: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, (312) 443-3800 or goodmantheatre.org
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (also Tuesday, Feb. 19), 2 and 7:30 p.m. Thursday (no matinee Feb. 7), 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday (no evening shows Feb. 10 and 24); through Feb. 24
Running time: About two hours and 20 minutes with intermission
Tickets: $31-$85; some day-of discounts available
Parking: Area pay garages and limited metered street parking
Rating: For mature audiences; some adult language and sexual situations