Hold on to your chair.
“Caught,” Christopher Chen’s heady, high-concept play that made its regional premiere Saturday at the Guthrie Theater, leaves you unsure of where you sit, or stand. Nothing is as it seems in the show’s four sly and seemingly disparate scenes.
Chen’s 2014 work entertains and maddens viewers, causing them to question their biases and worldviews.
Artfully directed by Rick Shiomi for Full Circle Theater, the 90-minute one-act takes place in an art gallery. “Caught” starts with an ostensible gallery talk by artist Lin Bo (clever actor Brian Kim), a Chinese dissident who has been profiled in the New Yorker. He tells us he was detained and tortured for an imaginary protest that he triggered in the minds of people to commemorate the 1989 killings in Tiananmen Square.
It sounds sincere, if a bit academic. But the details may be too good to be true. “Caught” was inspired by the Mike Daisey controversy, in which an American fabulist brought his work into the realm of journalism and was roundly condemned. (In a touch of irony, Daisey has performed on the same stage, the Guthrie’s Dowling Studio, where “Caught” is taking place.)
The action, which takes place in Mina Kinukawa's gallery installation set, also includes a post-publication fact-checking exercise by New Yorker reporter Joyce (Erika Kuhn) and her editor, Bob (Edwin Strout), as well as a post-play-like talk between actor Susan Miller (Shana Eisenberg) and multidisciplinary artist Wang Min (Katie Bradley).
“Caught” is really a series of philosophical quandaries dressed up as drama. Or an artist talk followed by an inquisition followed by a talkback followed by a reveal that leaves more questions than answers.
It all boils down to a couple of questions: What is the nature of truth? And what’s the purpose?
Kim’s Lin Bo is quite the character, both as a concept and as depicted by this sly actor. When we first meet him, he’s at a podium telling us his life story. The actor is sincere and witty. The audience is convinced that what we are seeing and hearing is authentic and true.
Lin Bo's charms mostly disappear as he's being questioned by the reporter and editor. Kim’s talent is taking us on a journey that leaves us both amused and destabilized. It’s a testament to this skill and craft that we trust him — and then we don’t — but still want to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Bradley is savagely funny as Wang Min, a woman whose questions about assumptions and points of view leave her interlocutor grasping at straws. It’s beautiful to watch although we don’t want to be on the receiving end of her laser focus. The other noteworthy performance in “Caught” is by Strout, whose Bob the editor has wild hand gestures that echo the play's confusion and quandaries.
“Caught” is about a figure who is trapped. But it’s also about how we can all be easily captured by stereotypes and our own expectations as we seek out what we think of as truth.