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A CurtainUp Review
By Charles Wright

America places a high premium on "truth." No persons of any other culture get more defensive when questioned over their "truth." This piece of journalism must be absolutely, empirically true. This piece of art must be emotionally truthful. So when a glitch in "truth" occurs, the impulse is to defend and argue your own "rules of truth" to the death.
— Wang Min, a conceptual artist in Christopher Chen's comedy Caught.
Louis Ozawa Changchien (Photo:Carol Rosegg)
Wang Min, a pretentious but bewitching conceptual artist straddling the cultures of Beijing and New York in Christopher Chen's surprise-filled comedy Caught, thinks Americans are simple-minded about the concept of truth.

Wang is played with aplomb by Jennifer Lim, justly praised (and honored with a Theater World Award) for her performance in the Broadway production of David Henry Hwang's Chinglish five years ago. ( Broadway and Chicago reviews ). Wang expresses her opinion about Americans and truth while discussing recent scandals that inspired her to create a "hybrid theater art installation piece." Wang's theater piece figures prominently in Caught and it's a crowd-pleasing pastiche of the current avant-garde.

Speaking to an earnest interviewer (Leslie Fray) in a "talk back" that will be recognizable to any patron of not-for-profit theaters, Wang mentions James Frey, accused by Oprah Winfrey of betraying "millions of readers" with his fictionalized "memoir," A Million Little Pieces, and anchorman Brian Williams, suspended by NBC News for claiming to have been on board a military helicopter brought down by rocket-propelled grenades in Iraq. But the case on which Wang and her interviewer dwell is that of Mike Daisey, who became front-page news in 2012 when he admitted adding imaginative embroidery to an account of what he observed at the manufacturing facility in China where Apple products are assembled.

In interviews, playwright Chen has acknowledge that the genesis of Caught was the Mike Daisey dust-up. Chen has lamented the fact that controversy over Daisey's dramatic flourishes drew public attention away from the plight of Chinese laborers working in dangerous and inhumane conditions, which was Daisey's real subject.

Daisey is a theater artist, not a journalist. His forte is the full-evening theatrical monologue. The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Daisey's dramatic account of visiting Foxconn, the Chinese manufacturing concern, ran at the Public Theater in New York City four years ago. ( review). He came under fire after performing parts of that play on This American Life, a program offered by National Public Radio as factual reporting.

Caught is a lively rumination on the truth claims of various intellectual pursuits — journalism, graphic and plastic arts, drama, autobiography. Chen, a San Francisco playwright, has created four scenes for five actors in which spectators' assumptions and expectations are overturned repeatedly. It's an evening of narrative sucker-punches, all of them related to things not being what they seem or, as Wang Min puts it, "glitches in truth."

Upon arrival, the audience passes through space that purports to be a pop-up art gallery and features an installation called Jail Seeking Prisoners (2016). The installation, supposedly created by the play's other conceptual artist, Lin Bo (Louis Ozawa Changchien), is actually a pre-existing work, titled The Cage, by the real-life artist Miao Jiaxin.

a The play's first scene is a gallery talk by Lin Bo, who tells about his life in China and explains the background of Jail Seeking Prisoners. Lin reports on the world of dissident artists in his homeland, and recounts being arrested and imprisoned for spearheading an innovative commemoration of the June 1989 tragedy in Tiananmen Square.

Like everyone and everything in Caught, Lin Bo isn't what at first he seems to be (but his secrets won't be revealed here). Suffice it to say that, like Daisey, he belongs to the lineage of American literary raconteurs from George Washington Cable and Mark Twain to Spalding Gray, who start with real-life experience, embellishing freely for dramatic effect and emotional power.

Chen finds both humor and pathos in the position of artists in an age of science and technology. Caught, which is satiric without being didactic, gets at the folly of imposing scientific standards on discourse that isn't meant to be scientific. The playwright explores the special kind of veracity to be found in the dramatic imagination and its symbols by creating his own grandly hyperbolic theater piece which, in cumulative effect, out-Wangs Wang Min.

Caught has been seen previously in Chicago, London, Philadelphia, and Seattle. For its New York premiere, The Play Company has assembled a resourceful production that, though frugal, appeals to spectators' eyes and ears. Arnulfo Maldonado (scenic design), Barbara Samuels (lighting design), and Jeremy S. Bloom (music and sound design) collaborate cleverly with director Lee Sunday Evans to pull off the surprises essential to the evening's success. With sound, light, modest scenery, and a few props (as well as Miao Jiaxin's installation), the creative team guides the audience on an energetic romp from the literalism of the first scene's pop-up gallery through the disorienting corridors and unexpected chambers of Chen's luxuriant imagination.

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Caught by Christopher Chen
Directed by Lee Sunday Evans
Cast: Louis Ozawa Changchien (Lin Bo); Leslie Fray (Joyce/Curator); Murphy Guyer (Bob); Jennifer Lim (Wang Min)
Scenic Design: Arnulfo Maldonado
Costume Design: Junghyun Georgia Lee
Lighting Design: Barbara Samuels
Sound Design & Music: Jeremy S. Bloom
Art Installation Concept: Miao Jiaxin
Hair and Makeup Design: Cookie Jordan
Production Stage Manager: Megan Schwartz Dickert
Running Time: 100 minutes, no intermission
Produced by The Play Company
All performances begin at 7:30 pm
La Mama, 66 East 4th Street<
From 8/17/16; opened 8/28/16; closing9/24/16
Reviewed by Charles Wright, September 2, 2016

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