It’s impossible to talk about award-winning playwright Christina Anderson’s How to Catch Creation without talking about love; specifically, black love. In its world premiere at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre on Monday, Anderson’s multigenerational drama introduced six black characters whose love stories span almost a half century and explore the myriad and unique ways in which we love—and how love bends, builds, breaks and rebuilds itself yet again.
“I really believe that plays should be a dance,” Anderson said during a rehearsal attended by The Root. “They should be a choreography, a painting that slowly starts to develop itself.”
Arrestingly staged by Bessie Award-winning director Niegel Smith, the intersecting, and, at times, simultaneous narratives are indeed a dance. Filled with rhythms, sensuality and musicality (and a pretty stellar soundtrack), his collaboration with Anderson also offers profound intimacy, empathy, honesty and affirmation.
“It looks like life—but it ain’t.” Smith said. “Hopefully, for audiences, what they will experience is, when you’re given an opportunity, what impact will you have? ... These are like those little condensed moments of life, and over the course of the play, you see how small choices have huge consequences.”
As her title suggests, much of Anderson’s plot focuses on creation; both literal and hypothetical—her characters are plumbing the depths of both love and creative purpose, cycling through longing, desperation, exhilaration, despair—and ultimately, the profound peace of knowing one is truly seen. In the process, they ask eternal and universal questions, like “Why am I here?”; “What does it all mean?” and “Where do I go from here?”
For Smith, who made his Goodman debut last spring with the Odyssey-inspired, Suzan-Lori Parks-penned epic Father Comes Home from the Wars, his newest collaboration is no less magnificent in scope.
“Both of them are epic works. They ask big questions, and have huge, diverse points of view inside of blackness,” he said. “I think on the unique things about [How to Catch Creation], and what is different from Father Comes Home is that that was really an allegory. This is life.”
Anderson’s deeply relatable script was inspired by time spent in and around San Francisco, during which she was deeply inspired by the wide breadth of deeply progressive and often queer black artists she encountered there. Significantly, the lasting influence of black women artists like Alice Walker, who calls the area home, made its way into her play.
“You know, when I realized what this play was gonna be, I realized that this play is a testament to black women artists. It’s a testament to black women’s legacies, and literature, and writing. I realized that I really wanted to celebrate the longevity of blackness, and the possibility of it,” Anderson told us. “So hopefully too, when people leave, they’ll see a celebration of blackness, and a resilience, and what’s possible when we surround ourselves with chosen family and also birth family.
“And also, community and love—and black love, in all of its forms,” she added. “Nikki Giovanni says ‘Black love is black wealth,’ and that’s something that I’ve held close to me while I was writing this play, as well. I thought it’d be really interesting to explore the many facets of black love....It’s like all these different levels of being connected, and loving.”
Also on Anderson’s mind? The centuries-long and still troubling relationship between African Americans and the American justice system. Actress Jasmine Bracey, who plays Creation’s fictional and catalytic author G.K. Marche, was struck by the intersection of art and activism in the 1960s, when much of her character’s story is set. Using her research to reflect on the many prolific voices of that era, she found a new depth to her knowledge of black American history.
“[O]ur education fails us a lot in letting us know how prominent we have been in the history of this country.” Bracey noted. “Going back to even the Declaration of Independence and looking at what that document says, and how if it actually got applied to everyone—regardless of race, gender, religion—just how different this country would be, if we actually took the words that started this country and applied it, and we actually made it available to everyone.”
“I grew up, and the dominant culture gave me very limited versions of what blackness looked like,” Smith said in agreement. “And so, in [Creation], I get to stage with my collaborators a world that is as diverse as the world that I know is out there on the streets ... and we deserve to see electrifying, satisfying, entertaining portrayals of who we are that also take us to really difficult places. Part of our job as artists is to go to the dark places and report back.”
Playwright Anderson credits Smith with elevating her narrative with his innovative staging and direction, which includes revolving sets and sometimes synchronized dialogue, effectively bridging the gap between past and present day. Sitting in the audience on Monday night, the result was both mesmerizing and deeply moving as we time-traveled with Creation’s characters through their entangled arcs.
“I think people are going to walk away chattering about, ‘Oh my God, look at how those people supported each other. Look at how they got into each others’ lives,’” Smith said. “It’s important to see all those many ways that we love and support each other.”
How to Catch Creation is in production through February 24 at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Il. Tickets are available here.