When I watch TV, if I’m really concentrating, I have a tendency to angle my head a little so I’m looking at the screen from the side of my eyes, and my brow furrows in what looks, from what I’m told, very skeptical. This has happened since I was young, and as I’ve grown older, I feel myself settling into this familiar pose more often. During the 90 minutes of Full Circle Theater’s production of Caught, I’m pretty sure I was like that for 85. Maybe more—I always get a little skeptical if an actor is lecturing on fact during an inherently fictional story.
And that’s how this play starts: a talk by artist Lin Bo. Well, that’s not entirely true, I guess. The whole production begins with a pop-up art gallery for Bo’s work (right sized and immersive by scenic designer Mina Kinukawa). Instead of entering the Dowling and taking your seats, you’re greeted by a museum curator and are free to mill about more than one dozen prints, with three other docents helping interpret the red and in-your-face conceptual works.
Everything about the prints is, in a desensitized way, benign. Bo’s images and his words reinforce the broadly prescribed persona of China as a state of martial, arbitrary law and tyranny. But then we move forward in time, and Bo is meeting with a reporter and editor who have a few questions about the truth of his story.
There is so much to this play that it creates its own armor—whether from clever writing or the chaos it creates when it tries to upturn the foundation that dictates how we see the world. If you think the actors are over-acting or the staging is stilted, director Rick Shiomi might be well aware. If you think an accent is slipping, it’s been carefully timed. If you think an argument isn’t lining up, it’s a toss up between a convenient sidestep for the artist or the countering question not applying because you’re not looking at it from the right mindset. Possibly both.
Christopher Chen, who won an Obie Award in 2017 for this script, created a play that … is hard to talk about for fear of spoilers. What I can say is this: Brian Kim, who plays Lin Bo, and Katie Bradley, who plays the leading lady Wang Min, get better as the play goes on, shedding layers of facade to become something real. Their reactions and their voices show the artist after the performance is done, a vulnerability and competitiveness that comes from being proud of your work and your status. Then the play ends, and you’re left thinking, dang, Christopher Chen. Just line up with Loki and Christopher Nolan and smile for your group picture already.
The day I went to see the play, there was a talk back, and the audience was asked, in what ways do you feel caught? I was too shy to raise my hand. Here’s my answer now: I feel caught because, despite the sometimes manic playfulness of the show, it raises real questions about the proof we need to act on something and the way which we take in and interact with the world. If you move at all, to what end are we choosing one “truth” over another? And is the only way to live to choose a truth and run the hell out of it? Does considering this even change the outcomes? Talk about existential crises.
Caught is, if not funny and frustrating, just frustrating in all of the best ways. See it before it leaves on June 2—Kathryn Fumie will be playing in Katie Bradley’s role for these performances.