“How to Catch Creation” plays at the Thomas Theatre through Oct. 26. For more information, go to www.osfashland.org.
“How to Catch Creation” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is a wonderfully executed character driven piece of theatre that is chock full of humor and insight. Playwright Christina Anderson has crafted a memorable work that says a lot about human nature, the challenges creative people have in finding the spark and inspiration for their creative endeavors, and the complexities of relationships – from friendships, family, to romantic entanglements.
The play, which is having its West Coast premiere at OSF, sparkles with witty, poignant and well constructed dialogue that made me feel like the characters on stage were old friends that I got to spend time with.
All the characters in the play, which is set in San Francisco, are African American, with the majority of them queer. The beauty of “How to Catch Creation” is how matter of fact the play is about who these people are ethnically and in their sexuality. These things are just part of the wonderful fabric of who they are as human beings, which is lovely and refreshing to see.
“How To Catch Creation” focuses on three pairs of people, as we learn during the course of the play how they are all connected with one another. Two of the main stories are set in modern times, while the third takes place in the 1960s.
This production is expertly directed by new OSF artistic director Nataki Garrett, who helps make this story come alive in such a vibrant and realistic manner.
One pair are best friends Tami (Christiana Clark), and Griffin (Chris Butler). Tami is the director at a Bay Area arts institute and is a painter herself, but as of late has not been able to paint, as she is still struggling with an abusive relationship she had with her last girlfriend. Griffin is a man rebuilding his life after spending 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He goes around the country as a guest speaker talking about his experiences, and is a self educated man who has a profound interest and respect for black feminist writers.
As the play opens, we find out Griffin desperately wants to have a baby, although he is currently not in a relationship with a woman, but wants to raise a child.
Another pair we follow are a couple in their 20s. Stokes (William Thomas Hodgson), is a kind and self conscious young artist who is struggling and getting discouraged by his rejections to art schools. His live in girlfriend, Riley (Kimberly Monks), is a bright, intelligent and outspoken woman who works on computers and is frustrated by her boyfriend not being able to get into art school. She takes matters into her own hands, unbeknownst to Stokes, after he receives another rejection, which leads to some very complex and interesting things taking place.
We meet the third pair of characters back in the 1960s. Author G.K. Marche (Greta Oglesby), is in a committed relationship with Natalie (Safiya Frederick), as these two women have to keep their relationship a secret because of the times they live in. Even holding hands in public makes them look around twice to see if anyone is watching. G.K. is in the middle of writing a novel that is consuming her, as Natalie feels that her partner is becoming too distant and becomes quite lonely.
The set in “How to Catch Creation” is brought to life by scenic designer Jason Sherwood and his crew and is quite creative in execution. There are four parts of the stage, where at times the characters stand on their own corner of the stage, giving a wonderful feelings of intimacy and how while they may be in different spaces and even times periods, they are all still intertwined and connected with one another.
Butler gives a complex and nuanced performance as Griffin. This is a man that is still trying to acclimate to life on the outside after being imprisoned for so long, and dealing with what happened to him and all the time he lost. It is quite amazing to watch as Griffin goes through so much in his quest to have a child. This includes him telling Tami about going to a baby store and buying clothing for a child he does not have, or a poignant scene where Griffin talks about a police officer approaches him after a parent complains after he smiles at a child at a park. There are a few scenes involving Griffin trying to call a law office to help him with adopting a child, but struggles to make the call as calling the office reminds him too much of his past experience with the legal system. Butler is riveting throughout in a performance that is a standout and one that struck a chord with me.
Clark is outstanding as Tami, a woman that while being strong for those around her, is still coming to terms with her previous relationship and one that unexpectedly takes place through the course of the play and the ramifications of this new relationship. Clark brings a grounded reality to the part and makes this character one that feels fresh and fully formed. I loved her scenes with Butler, as both made me believe these were two close friends who are so comfortable with one another and can say whatever is on their mind, as the dialogue between them crackles throughout.
Thomas Hodgson is well cast as Stokes, who is a young man struggling with who he is and what he wants with his life, as his relationship with Riley is a fascinating and complex one. Monk brings a confidence and wonderful stage presence as Riley, who is a bit of a force of nature, as we watch her go through a lot of interesting personal challenges during the course of the play.
Oglesby and Frederick are touching and heartbreaking in their parts, as we see this relationship change forever when Natalie reveals something quite surprising to G.K..
“How to Catch Creation” is a fascinating, well done play that I highly recommend. It is a special work that I hope to see again during its run at OSF.