By: Christina Anderson
At: The Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St. Tickets: Goodmantheatre.org; $20-$70. Runs through: Feb. 24
The Goodman Theatre production How to Catch Creation, penned by Christina Anderson, is a groundbreaking portrayal of intergenerational queer relationships of color.
Featuring Niegel Smith's deft direction, How To Catch Creation centers on two couples across time and the intersections of their lives and sexualities. G.K. Marche, a focused and formidable Jasmine Bracey, is a queer novelist in 1960s San Francisco, living with her lover Natalie ( a compelling and beautiful Ayanna Bria Bakari ). They are juxtaposed with the creative tech genius Riley ( a fierce Maya Vinice Prentiss ) and her aspiring painter beau, Stokes ( the charming Bernard Gilbert ). Actress Karen Aldridge returns to the stage to play the queer painter Tami, who she imbues light, love and a larger-than-life persona that suits this slightly surreal play.
It is rare to see queer couples show each other intimacy or affection on stage ( intimacy consulting by Sasha Smith ), and here we see not one but two Black femme couples who are deeply in love and demonstrate it without judgement. Although there is plenty of heartbreak, Anderson cares for her audience and her characters, choosing in her own act of creation to alleviate them of the Black and Brown suffering usually found in plays produced at larger houses. Anderson's characters are not here to remind you that they are human, but rather to live their fullest possible life and invite you into the central questions: What is creation, and how do you master it?
In the pursuit of these inquiries and perhaps in response to the elevated style of the play, the setting ( design by Todd Rosenthal ) is lifted out of realism almost entirely. Though set in San Francisco, there is an excess of brick ( it explodes in an earthquake unless it's rebar, which is wildly expensive ), and posters from civil-rights rallies in Illinois. Typically, Rosenthal knocks it out of the park, but there is a lack of specificity paired with largesse that fluctuates between showcasing gorgeous transitions and threatening to swallow the story. The same is true for all of the design elements; while the costumes, by Jenny Mannis, felt inauthentic to San Francisco, it must be noted they were accompanied by beautiful wigs and hairstyles for the Black women on stage.
Griffin ( Keith Randolph Smith )Tami's dear friend and a Black man who has spent his entire life oppressed by the justice systemdecides to venture back into that system in the pursuit of being a father. Although Anderson's depictions of queer life are so central to the play, this Black man being so willing to be a father that he wants to put all his personal strife aside and his resources forward is so refreshing. Smith's grounded and rich characterization of Griffin only helps to aid this portrayal.
For the queer couples, creation is depicted as the manifestation of creative works, be it a novel or a painting; for heterosexual couples, creation is new life. While this parallel is worthwhile, it does eliminate queer creation of a child in a way that seems unintended from an author who is so otherwise intentional. In future productions, this could be more balanced.
How to Catch Creation is a gorgeous cacophony of human beings that you feel you would meet walking down the street, and its importance in the American canon cannot be overstated. Anderson is a pivotal playwright for Black, intersectional, queer theater in this country.