Chicago Theatre Review
Issues of Truth, Intention, and Fabrication Debated in ‘Caught’
Caught – Sideshow Theatre Company
Christopher Chen’s “Caught,” which is receiving its Chicago premiere from Sideshow Theatre Company at Victory Gardens, is among the more original plays I have seen on a Chitown stage, but its ultimate success will depend in large part on your patient as a viewer.
An intricately structured dissection of truth and fiction, the very beginning of “Caught” plays with the truth. A cast member – ostensibly a member of the Sideshow company, dressed in plainclothes – announces to the audience that Lin Bo, a Chinese artist and dissent whose ostensible artworks populate the stage, happens to be in town for a new exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and has agreed to speak to the audience about his artwork, his inspirations, and most importantly, the two years he spent in a horrific Chinese prison. What follows is a 20-minute speech from Bo, all under the pretense that this is not a performance, but an actual, impromptu address from a real-life artist.
Of course, Bo not real, and is portrayed by the highly likable Ben Chang. After Bo’s address ends, the action shifts to the offices of The New Yorker magazine, where Bo is confronted on the inconsistencies and possible fabrications of his story by a journalist (the very engaging Ann James) who brought Bo’s story to a wide audience and her editor (the snarky Bob Kruse). The scene is taut, absurd, and hilarious in equal parts, as James and Kruse painfully extract the truth from Bo (whose real name, it turns out, is Fred, and who is not even Chinese).
If “Caught” followed that narrative into the next scene, it already would have been an interesting play, but Chen takes things even further in the third and fourth scenes of the 80-minute play. In the third scene, James assumes a new role, and interviews Wang Min (played by the eloquent Helen Young), the supposed writer of the first two scenes. The sequence plays out as a cynical, satirical study of overly serious playwrights and cultural appropriation police, before transitioning into the final scene, where Young and Chang assume new roles as collaborating artists who, they eventually learn, were greatly misled by their artistic mentor.
There is very little plot to “Caught.” Most of the action is in dialogue, and Chang, James, Kruse, and Young are certainly capable of bringing vivacity and energy to Chen’s nimble script; however, “Caught” is also a deeply circular play, the kind that is constantly questioning its conclusions and reevaluating the principals it stands for – it mostly succeeds, but if you are not enticed by such a work, then you are in for a rough 80 minutes.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Presented through July 3 by Sideshow Theatre Company at Victory Gardens Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln
Tickets are available by calling (773) 871-3000 or by visiting www.victorygardens.org.
Additional information about this and other spectacular area productions is available at the one, the only, the indefatigable www.theatreinchicago.com.