Although playwright Christopher Chen’s Caught visits several themes -- including the influence of narrative, art, and appropriation -- the most powerful is the concept of truth. What is it? Whose is it? Does it even matter?
Full Circle Theater's production, directed by Rick Shiomi, begins before the play does. Attendees enter into what appears to be an art exhibit where thought-provoking, political pieces are on display. A small crew of white-gloved docents, who are actually actors (Elizabeth Cates, Marcos Lopez, Nathan Stenberg), help audience members to interpret the works, which mainly appear to be critical of the Chinese government.
The first proper scene begins when artist Lin Bo, played by Brian Kim, steps up to a podium and relays his experience of being unjustly imprisoned in China for staging a protest. In the next scene, however, we see Bo meeting with a reporter (Erika Kuhn) who profiled him for the New Yorker, as well as her editor (Edwin Strout). As Bo’s claims are interrogated by the two, some of the facts of his story become frayed.
Reality is not stable in this play. Each scene serves to widen the circle of confusion, shifting perceptions and even the nature of what the performance aims to accomplish. The play riffs on deception of the audience right up to the curtain call, so much so that Full Circle Theater feels it necessary to dispense a handout identifying fact and fiction to attendees as they exit the theater.
Standout acting is done by Katie Bradley, who play a dual role as a Chinese dissident artist. Bradley’s performance as Wang Min in her conversation with an art curator (Shana Eisenberg) is a highlight. The discussion about appropriation is both intricate and hilarious, with the scene encapsulating the play’s murkiness, ending with Min herself seemingly unsure of what she’s driving at.
The gallery art on display throughout the show is original work created by William Ng for a previous production of Caught that was also directed by Rick Shiomi. Apart from the art, the design elements of the show are sparse and consist of a podium, a few chairs, and a camelback sofa.
One of the more difficult aspects of the play to swallow is the idea that truth is relative. If this is true, then the truth doesn’t matter that much. It equates the truth-value of statements like “We’re a nation of immigrants” and “Immigrants are ruining this country” based on the perspective of the individual making the statement. The idea that the truth isn’t as important as we might think seems to be one of the main ideas the play wants to get across.
If a story characterizes the way one individual feels or perceives a situation, or even a paradigm, does that provide enough validity to justify the embellishment of basic facts? Do race, culture, and gender factor into our tolerance of embellishment, or outright fabrication? These are questions modern people must ask themselves in a media saturated world where competing narratives often collide over the facts.
Caught provides a muddy, albeit thought-provoking take on the plight of perspective. For supporters of empirical or pragmatic truth, the play might underscore the need for some sort of shared understanding of what constitutes a fact. For those who take the truth-is-relative perspective, it might solidify the belief that we’ll likely never arrive at any such understanding.
Whatever a viewer’s perspective may be, Full Circle Theater’s production will certainly succeed in inciting lively conversation and getting people to think about things from another angle.
The Guthrie Theater’s Dowling Studio
818 South Second St., Minneapolis
www.guthrietheater.org; through June 2