By Christopher Chen
Directed by Seth Bockley
In Collaboration with Xiong Art Gallery
Produced by Sideshow Theatre Company
At Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theater
An Exceptional Production of a Brilliant Play
Failing for a common basis on which to collectively answer the question “What is truth,” in America that dialogue is often defaulted to the realm of politics, where, supposedly, the political truths of the material happenings of the world — who did what, why and when — offer a firmer basis on which for us to reach accord (or some semblance of it). Yet even this realm has its priests and priestesses, its demagogues, who, as Christopher Chen might say, appropriate a story and thereby give to it the power of truth by their very position of authority. “Who said that?” Usually, the answer to this question — depending on, what is politely termed, our perspective — gives us all the information we need to catalogue the story as either truth or falsity.
According to Chen’s Caught, herein lies the construction of our thoughts: the structure by and in which all thought is processed, and the figure(s) to which we implicitly assign the power of truth-giving. It is this very construction that Chen’s play virtually deconstructs — not merely before our eyes, but from within our very minds. Sideshow Theatre’s production of Caught, directed by Seth Bockley, in collaboration with Xiong Art Gallery, is neither comedy nor tragedy; nor is it strictly drama. Caught is a wholly original experience. And it is brilliant.
To attempt to synopsize Caught would, as they say (crassly, but quite truly here), take the piss out of the whole thing. For, in my opinion, it is an experience one is best situated to have without knowing what to expect. Suffice it to say that Caught’s description does as much to conceal its full scope as its poster does to conceal its speaker. The play begins with a small art exhibition on the stage, which the audience is invited to peruse. The exhibits, the playbill tells us, were all done by the dissident artist Lin Bo, and they consist of what one might expect to find in the The Art Institute under postmodern, political art. Following the viewing, the play undergoes three (or perhaps four) “movements,” each of which leaves us more doubtful and curious about the play’s basis as it unveils another layer of truth. Even after we know the play has finished, it still continues to roll us in its psychic grip.
Without spoiling anything, I can say that Caught challenges our epistemological moorings and does so in a way that, apart from how the play draws attention to this happening, we actually experience — psychologically and, at times, viscerally — their foundering. The line does indeed blur between story and truth, and we feel our minds squirm as we fumble for an Archimedean point from where we might finally rest assured that we have “got” the play, conceptualized and understood. For me, it was an effect unlike any other I’ve experienced in theatre.
This effect is paramount to the success of Caught’s production, and, in regards to this, Bockley orchestrates all the right moves — with, of course, the collaboration of Xiong Art Gallery and the exhibition’s featured artist. Particularly in the first movement, Bockley guides his actors into some amazingly authentic performances. Among them, Ann James’ stands out with her emotional physicality and vulnerability that are simply awesome to behold; additionally, Bob Kruse brings a seemingly effortless, natural comedy to his character that adds a lot of humor to an already very amusing play.
Reviewed on 2 June 2016.
Playing at the Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.