By Christopher Chen; Directed by Lee Sunday Evans
Produced by The Play Company
Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 9.24.16
La MaMa, 66 East 4th Street
by Angel Lam on 8.29.16
Louis Ozawa Changchien in Caught. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
BOTTOM LINE: Caught is a Chinese-box labyrinth play questioning our perceptions of truth and authenticity.
Describing the experience of Caught is tricky. Although one expects to enter a theatre, our first encounter is with an art gallery space—there is an art installation piece described on the wall and in a card stock handout. In the next room, we see a small replica of this installation, and we are introduced to Chinese artist Li Bo (Louis Ozawa Changchien), who created the art. He shares with us his work from China and talks about his two-years of suffering in a Beijing prison. But all of this is about to dissolve and disintegrate.
In the next scene, Li Bo is interrogated by New York reporter Joyce (Leslie Fray) and her editor Bob (Murphy Guyer) about the authenticity of his prison experience. But this scene will also disintegrate when it's revealed to be part of another art installation/theatrical piece, this time by the artist Wang Min (Jennifer Lim). The process goes on until we can no longer trust anything, including the narratives that we are depending on and the world that we thought we knew so well.
In Christopher Chen's Caught, each scene unfolds itself like a mysterious Chinese box, directed craftily and ingeniously by Lee Sunday Evans. Each wall from the previous scene dissolves, and we are thrust into new territories of “truth.” The audience is caught, feeling lost in a sea of uncertainty. As Wang Min says, “You are moving out of your comfort zone… But we must get lost in order to truly learn.”
Playwright Christopher Chen is a San Francisco-born Chinese-American. In Caught, he questions authority and authenticity at the intersection of political art, journalism, cultural appropriation, and human relationships. In one scene Chen mentions Mike Daisey's controversial work The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. For those unfamiliar, This American Life's Ira Glass had initially praised Daisey for his piece about the poor labor conditions inside Chinese factories that make iPhones. Then later, Glass confronted Daisey about some significant fabrications Daisey made within it. in Caught, Chen questions America’s obsession with “truth” and how it gets used in global relations. Wang Min explains that the incident between Glass and Daisey isn’t a matter of authenticity, but a clash in genre—Ira Glass's truth in journalism clashes with Mike Daisey's truth in his artistic process, since art allows for the dramatization and stretching of truth to tell a compelling story. “And in the meanwhile,” Wang Min adds, “the real content of truth—workers’ conditions in China—gets sidelined in the conversation.”
In this scene a curator (Leslie Fray) questions Wang Min: “So how do you suggest we engage with other cultures? With the rest of the world?” Wang Min challenges her: “It is not a matter of 'engage' or 'not engage.' It is a matter of intentional awareness. People immerse themselves in other cultures because they are searching for something within themselves, taking parts of the culture that fills a need then leaving the rest behind. It is tasting a peach to better understand an apple; eating bacon and claiming to know the lives of swine.” As Chen questions the authenticity of his characters, we also do not stop questioning the “truth” that is put before us. “To stop is to rest inside a lie,” Chen writes. To our surprise, even the most “Chinese” part of the play is an illusion…or is it?
The cast is outstanding, and especially memorable are Leslie Fray, who plays both Joyce and the curator, and Jennifer Lim as Wang Min. The set is intelligently designed by Arnulfo Maldonado, even though the last scene is a bit crowded and distanced from the audience, making it hard to hear and less effective. The sound and music design that gradually envelops scenes is well crafted by Jeremy S. Bloom, and the costumes by Junghyun Georgia Lee are slick and appropriate. This play is definitely an adventurous departure from the traditional structure of most theatre, and especially with the inclusion of an art-installation into a theatrical piece, Caught is worth checking out.
(Caught plays at Summer Shares at La MaMa, 66 East 4th Street, through September 24, 2016. The running time is one hour 30 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Monday to Saturday at 7:30. Tickets are $35-$55 and are available at playco.org or by calling 866-811-4111. For more information visit playco.org.)
Caught is by Christopher Chen. Directed by Lee Sunday Evans. Art installation Concept is by Miao Jiaxin. Set Design is by Arnulfo Maldonado. Sound and Music is by Jeremy S. Bloom. Costume is by Junghyun Georgia Lee. Lighting Design is by Barbara Samuels. Stage Manager is Megan Schwarz Dickert.
The cast is Louis Ozawa Changchien, Jennifer Lim, Leslie Fray and Murphy Guyer.