“The present,” wrote author and folklorist, Zora Neale Hurston, “was an egg laid by the past that had the future inside its shell.” Witness Christina Anderson’s How to Catch Creation—with its overlapping time frames and intersecting lives—and that metaphoric musing makes all the sense in the world.
The story of a couple drifting apart, of a once-imprisoned man determined to adopt a child, and a single female academic who has lost her way professionally and personally, How to Catch Creation takes place in the present. But the action is shadowed by the past, in the form of a writer and her partner.
“Like the most commanding ritual, Christina’s theater demands all our senses,” says Niegel Smith, Artistic Director of New York’s The Flea Theater, who helms the Goodman production. “She does this by structuring her play like a great symphony. Themes are built and repeated, they develop and evolve. What’s thrilling is how these stories and characters
fall into arcs and rhythms that sometimes complement each other or diverge. In her hands, life becomes more real; it becomes poetry.”
The seed of the show, for Anderson, was Griffin: a wrongly-convicted, forty-something man who lost a chunk of his life to prison and is struggling to start over. The Kansas-born playwright was living in San Francisco in 2011, marveling at the transformation of the city and wondering what it would be like for a man to re-enter a city that had changed dramatically since his incarceration. “What would he want that he felt was taken away from him? Then I thought: fatherhood. And I started researching the challenges facing a single man who’s trying to get a kid. People just don’t trust men who want to raise kids by themselves.”
Anderson’s work—which includes pen/man/ship and The Ashes Under Gait City—has been performed at New York’s The Public Theater, Yale Repertory Theatre and Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota, among other places. An early version of How to Catch Creation was first presented at the Goodman’s 2017 New Stages Festival. “I didn’t know what to expect,” shares Anderson. “My reading was at 10am, and I thought there might be about 15 people there. But there was a huge audience—and they were super awake for 10am!”
Anderson’s first foray into playwriting began in high school, after a field trip to the youth-focused Coterie Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri. “They had a program where you went for whole day and learned the fundamentals,” she recalls. “I knew about Shakespeare, I had seen plays, but it didn’t click that there were people alive, writing plays. I was like, Holy Smokes! I can do this? I can put people on stage?” After that, Anderson was invited to submit something for a writing group that met twice a month. “They let me in and I just kept going after that. I was hooked.”
After earning her undergraduate degree at Brown University, Anderson went on to earn an M.F.A. in playwriting from Yale School of Drama. She lists Paula Vogel and Ntozake Shange as influences on her development, along with Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director of The Public Theater. “I remember him saying in class how, when you go to the movies, if the theater is totally empty, you might be elated that you can watch the film by yourself,” she relates. “But when you walk into a theater to see a play and it’s empty, you feel kind of anxious. That’s because an audience is watching performers on stage and they want to share that energy, that breath. That always stuck with me as playwright. I am thinking about this thing being in front of an audience—celebrating theatricality and really embracing live performance. With Netflix and Amazon, there’s really good TV happening right now. So it’s important to celebrate the power of what we do, as theater makers. And encourage audiences to participate in that.”
This piece was written by Thomas Connors for Playbill.