Where: Goodman Theatre
170 N. Dearborn St.
When: through Feb. 24
By ANNE SPISELMAN
Artistic creation and procreation, love and legacy, inspiration and rejection intersect in the world premiere of Christina Anderson’s intricately plotted “How to Catch Creation” at Goodman Theatre, where it first received a staged reading as part of the 2017 New Stages Festival.
Set in an unnamed bay area city not unlike San Francisco between 1966 and 2014, the play explores the lives of six characters who are connected or connect, sometimes in serendipitous ways. Except for Griffin (Keith Randolph Smith), all are artists of one sort or another, and the focus shifts among them as they grapple with or avoid artist’s block and balance creating their art with having a life and leaving something for those who come after.
Griffin is the lynchpin, though the theater has asked reviewers not to reveal how. A 47-year-old man recently released from prison after serving 25 years of a 75-year sentence for a crime he didn’t commit, he decides that the biggest thing he’s missed is being a father. He wants a child, but he doesn’t have a wife or girlfriend and discovers that adoption or surrogacy isn’t easy, especially for an ex-con, even an exonerated one. As a single black man, he finds that he’s regarded as a “perv” just for smiling at children in the park.
Griffin’s best friend is Tami (Karen Aldridge), dean of painting at an art school, who worked assiduously for his release, but thinks his desire for a child is crazy. Childless herself, and gay, she’s been unable to do her own painting for a few years, perhaps because of a painful breakup with her last girlfriend.
Another painter, Stokes (Bernard Gilbert), also has gotten blocked—after being rejected by more than a
Meanwhile, Griffin and Stokes meet by accident on a park bench and bond over an overlooked writer named G.K. Marche. Griffin, who explains he had lots of time to read in prison and describes himself as a “black feminist,” has read all 35 of the lesbian author’s novels, as well as her short stories and poems. Stokes, who came home one day with a box of her books he found on sale, has become such a fan that he wants to write a novel, too.
Riley thinks Stokes’ new direction is a mistake, and their relationship deteriorates as her affair with Tami develops, sparking Tami’s love of painting again. For advice and friendship, Stokes turns to Griffin who, when he learns about it, doesn’t approve of what Tami is doing.
Short scenes among these four characters alternate with flashbacks to 1966, where G.K. Marche (Jasmine Bracey) is finishing one novel and rapidly starting another to avoid getting writer’s block. Her girlfriend Natalie (Ayanna Bria Bakari), a talented seamstress and entrepreneur, feels lonely and neglected, causing problems in their relationship, which are exacerbated when she becomes pregnant.
Back in the present, Riley also becomes pregnant, making a messy situation even messier.
All this plays out on Todd Rosenthal’s stunning set, an elaborate double turntable affair that whirls about to reveal at least half-a-dozen locations and is the highlight of the production, though it does tend to overshadow the actors.
Directed by Niegel Smith, often broadly, the cast is talented, but the performances are uneven. Witty exchanges in the script are stomped on; some jokes fall flat. Maybe the dialogue is supposed to be poetic, but the characters don’t seem to talk or relate to each other like real people. Most annoying is the way Bracey’s G.K. Marche morphs from a soft-spoken young woman into a cackling caricature of an old one, though I suspect that may have been a directorial decision.
On the other hand, each of the actors has his or her moments, and some of them are lovely. The other technical elements are appropriately evocative, among them the lighting by Allen Lee Hughes, costumes by Jenny Mannis, and original music by Justin Ellington.