Playwright Christina Anderson’s lyrical and ambitious “How to Catch Creation” at Baltimore Center Stage is a charming exploration of art and love told through a stellar cast, lively direction and sensory-pleasing design elements.
The creation of children, relationships, art and literature are the primary issues spinning between six successful, well-rounded characters whose coincidental intersections across two generations make the play feel akin to NBC’s “This Is Us.”
The show opens in 2014, in the stylish, upscale San Francisco apartment of Griffin (Lindsay Smiling) who tells his platonic best friend Tami (Stephanie Weeks) that, at 47 and a little over a year out of being released from a wrongful 25-year incarceration, he wants to become a father.
We’re then introduced to a young couple: Stokes (Jonathan Bangs) and Riley (Shayna Small), who are commiserating Stokes’ 13th rejection letter from art school. Riley shows up to plead her boyfriend’s case to Tami, who is the director of the local art school that just rejected Stokes.
The final pairing is between a 1966 romantic partnership between writer G.K. Marche (Tiffani Barbour) and seamstress Natalie (Shauna Miles), whose stories tangentially and directly affect our 2014 characters.
Each character in “How to Catch Creation” is successful, talented and multi-faceted. Several characters are sexually fluid and/or queer and all are African-American, but none of these attributes are exploited. Refreshingly, they are presented matter-of-factly, with no explanation needed. Black queer women artists and writers are given respect and relevancy, not just through representation as characters in the play, but also as inspiration for the two male characters. Stokes devours a box of G.K. Marche novels, which inspire him to become a writer. Griffin asserts that he gained an education from reading literature by black queer women while in prison.
Sabine Decatur, production dramaturge, in an article in the BCS’ program asserts: “By writing Black characters who are middle-class, successful, and flourishing in their talents, Anderson commits the revolutionary act of representing Black people as people: people who have messy love lives, drink too much wine, and make art.” You root for and relate to these characters, and hope they find the answers they seek.
Relationships are at the core of the play, which director Nataki Garrett expertly steers with carefully staged intimacy and room enough for her cast to milk Anderson’s lines for laughs or poignancy.
Smiling and Weeks have great chemistry as the platonic best friends Griffin and Tami (Tami is pretty disgusted by the idea of copulating with a man). Smiling gives Griffin weight as a well-meaning 47-year-old who yearns to be a father, bravely exploring adoption and surrogacy. Weeks’ comic delivery is a constant delight. She showcases her range in an emotionally powerful monologue in which Tami expresses her longing to hold onto a new intimate relationship.
The San Francisco setting is gorgeously presented in a revolving set by Jason Sherwood that features a prominent, nearly 20-foot-high Golden Gate Bridge set piece, with scenes mostly taking place in various characters’ apartments around the structure.
Anderson’s scope for “How to Catch Creation” is ambitious. Many conversations are started in the two-and-a-half-hour show: potential parenthood, budding relationships, failed relationships, meaningful art, bias, recidivism, representation, hopes and dreams, life purpose.
A lot of these conversations don’t reach a conclusion, with questions still dangling at the end of the show. But it is enjoyable to meander through these characters’ lives as they grapple with, but do not necessarily solve their issues.
“How to Catch Creation” runs through May 26 at Baltimore Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St. For tickets and more information: centerstage.org/