Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Also see Richard's reviews of August: Osage County, The Oldest Living Cater Waiter: My Life in Three Courses and all of what you love and none of what you hate
Caught is a labyrinth of truth and awareness, fantasy and reality, where nothing is as it first appears to be and the audience is taken a series of twists and turns.
When you first enter the theatre you see a large cage covered on three sides by a white curtain. It takes up most of the stage and on each side of this cage is a bench to seat about eight persons. Projections are shown of a Chinese male in various dresses. No one looks imprisoned. You are invited to come onto the stage view the structure.
The play opens with a man descending from the audience onto the stage. He is Chinese artist Lin Bo (Jomar Tagatac), who delivers a lecture on the maltreatment of rebellious Chinese artists by his country's government. He has spent two years in prison for an artwork that the Chinese government considered to be subversive. He tells of the difficult conditions of his imprisonment in Detention Center 7. He elaborates on the meals that the prisoners are forced to eat and how he is beaten with a bamboo stick in the interrogation room once a month. He tells about how his horrible story was publicized in The New Yorker about two months previous. Jomar Tagatac is convincing in the telling of the story.
In the second scene the curtains rise on the box on stage and what you see it is a glass box with three people. The set is an office at The New Yorker magazine with photos of New Yorker covers covering the wall. One of the people is Lin Bo. Lin Bo's story is ultimately examined by the arrival of two New Yorkers. Elissa Stebbins plays an editor of The New Yorker and Mick Mize plays a hard-hitting American journalist. Both are excellent in their roles. They attempt to find cracks in the prisoner's story.
The third scene becomes very awkward, with a Q and A between artistic collaborator Jean Ngo and a gallery curator. This almost 20 minute section becomes wearisome. The playwright's message lacks the more classy refinement of the first part of the production. The acting of El Beh as Jean and Elissa Stebbins as the curator are not to be faulted; they are terrific in their roles. The actors rise above the script. The fourth and final scene places Lin Bo and his artistic collaborator Jean Ngo sitting on steps in the center of the stage having a discussion of truth and art.
Nina Ball's set design is unusual but fascinating. Sound design by Matt Stines is excellent, especially the glass-enclosed stage in the second scene.
With some interesting directorial techniques from Susannah Martin and credible acting, Caught is a fascinating play about race, cultural identity, and ethics in art-making. There is a lot of talking in circles, a lot of telling the audience what to think and how to feel. I walked out of the theater frustrated with the unanswered questions that surround the concept of truth and art.
Caught runs through October 2nd, 2016, and then run in repertory from November 26 to December 17th at the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave, Berkeley. For tickets and information, call 510-841-6500, or visit shotgunplayers.org. Next up for the Shotgun Players is Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? opening October 12th.