Chicago Theater Review: HOW TO CATCH CREATION (Goodman Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on January 29, 2019

in Theater-Chicago

CONSIDER CREATION CAUGHT
IN THIS SEMINAL WORLD PREMIERE

It’s a tour-de-force to take home and reverently recall: A Goodman Theatre world premiere, How To Catch Creation lives up to a lovely title. In little more than two hours, Christina Anderson chronicles the intersected passions, both procreative and artistic, of three very different couples. They’re contrasted and combined across half a century (five pairings, in fact, before it all ends).

Niegel Smith’s dedicated staging takes the play’s potentially problematic contrivances and coincidences and renders them as natural and credible as Anderson’s charm-laden talk deserves.

In more ways than it would be wise to divulge, Anderson’s six characters (“cohorts,” Kurt Vonnegut would call them to suggest how life links set them apart) are San Francisco seekers caught up in dramatically different quests for authenticity. Not to wax abstract, they all want — more importantly, need — to shape stuff — novels, paintings, babies — rather than dwindle into pawns of destiny.

The best dramas, I’m convinced, show us how friends and lovers aren’t just good to each other but also for each other. On the right stage, watching such serendipitous couplings deal and defy rejection or form, and break and realign in order to connect, is a very contagious joy. In parallel scenes between 1966 and 2014 and diverse locales depicted on set designer Todd Rosenthal’s wonderfully detailed revolving stage, Anderson captures the rhythms of relationships in full flux.

Much of the story is seeded by the first couple: proto-feminist, lesbian lovers G.K. and Natalie. G.K. Marche (Jasmine Bracey) is a struggling novelist who has let her work absorb her life. (Her writings will richly change other dreamers in the next generation.) More conventional but nurturing in her own right, bi-sexual Natalie (Ayanna Bria Bakari) is a successful seamstress and entrepreneur, prone to very justified resentment over G.K.’s neglect of everything but her typewriter. Their liaison will be tested as if intimacy has an expiration date because the ties here are as fluid as emotional accuracy requires.

The contemporary couples feature Stokes (Bernard Gilbert), a young painter who, stumbling across G.K. Marche’s books, decides to give up canvases for fiction, and his bi-sexual partner Riley (Maya Vinice Prentiss), a computer-savvy graphic artist who vociferously champions Stokes’ art.

That’s how this enthusiastic booster connects with the final couple, Tami and Griffin, friends without benefits. Riley wants to persuade academically-minded Tami (Karen Aldridge), an admissions officer at a prized art school, to admit neophyte Stokes. In time the women will form a bond built, as Goethe would call it, from “elective affinities.”

Last and strategically different from the rest is Griffin (Keith Randolph Smith), a wrongly convicted, fortysomething felon who served 25 years out of a 75-year sentence before becoming a model of self-reformation and a self-declared “black feminist.” Now, however late in life, he ardently wants to raise a child, but discovers that adoption or artificial insemination are daunting goals, particularly for an ex-con.

Across the break-ups, sortings-out, and reverberations of a shape-shifting plot, the life force burns bright in the author’s Bay Area initiators. Seldom has a play so persuasively and non-judgmentally conflated creation and procreation, pregnancy and imagination, straight and gay sex, as well as the value of mentorship and the power of second chances. Tami, Natalie, G.K., Stokes, Riley and Griffin are interwoven in more ways, artistic and actual, than a synopsis would dare to disclose. (Rightly, the theater “respectfully requests” reviewers from “revealing aspects of the plot” — and by curtain call we know just where not to tread.)

By play’s end, thanks to a sextet of graceful and utterly convincing performances and the unforced honesty of Anderson’s sprightly dialogue, this invaluable Goodman discovery really has caught creation. A supposed minority become in fact a microcosm for hoping humanity. The effect is as delirious and dizzying as the rapidly rotating set changes. Consider creation caught.

photos by Liz Lauren

How to Catch Creation
Goodman Theatre’s Albert Theatre, 170 North Dearborn
ends on February 24, 2019
for tickets, call 312.443.3800 or visit Goodman Theatre

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Nikki Smith January 29, 2019 at 6:17 pm

As always, yours is the first review I read, because it is always the best.

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