Caught
Wang Min (El Beh, left) and Lin Bo (Jomar Tagatac, right). Photo: Pak Han.

Caught

Shotgun Players, Berkeley

Ashby Stage, Berkeley, California
Written by Christopher Chen
Directed by Susannah Martin
Starring Jomar Tagatac, El Beh, Elissa Stebbins, Mick Mize
Website
Through October 2, 2016, and in repertory through January 2017.

Shotgun Player’s production of playwright Christopher Chen’s stimulating, creative and complex work, “Caught,” confounded and ultimately conquered the audience in its opening night performance in Berkeley, California. The mesmerizing “Caught” concerns truth and lies in their infinite varieties, and the place of truth in art, journalism and relationships. Since 2014, “Caught” has been produced in Philadelphia, Chicago, London, Seattle and New York to glowing reviews.

Chen’s initial concept of “Caught” stems from the incident involving Mike Daisey, who had reported on NPR’s “This American Life” about his encounters at an Apple factory in China, based on his nonfiction theatrical monologue, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” After the program aired, subsequent fact-checking determined that some of Dailey’s experiences had been falsified. Ira Glass gave an on-air apology and retraction.

The substance of Daisey’s reporting about conditions in the Apple factory was accurate and was verified, but Daisey’s re-telling of aspects of his visit to China was false. So, yes, he publicized the horrendous working conditions, but in doing so, he fabricated his own involvement in the report.

Our evening of “Caught” begins with the audience partaking in a pop-up art gallery installation, “Made in China,” apparently created by Chinese dissident artist Lin Bo and the Xiong Gallery. The website for the Gallery (http://www.xionggallery.org/) describes it as: …an exploration into the nature of authenticity, “caught” blurs lines between mediums by taking the form of a theatrical production situated within a real theater organization’s season. partnering with organizations across multiple cities, each showing of “caught” is considered an installation work instigated by a different xiong gallery artist.

As we enter the theater, the audience-attendees may have their hands stamped, with the “Made in China” logo, as if attending a gallery opening; there is art on display; the program is the exhibit guide; some on-stage seating is provided to gallery attendees/audience members. Then we witness a talk, accompanied with slides, by dissident artist Lin Bo (excellent Jomar Tagatac) about his work in China and his punishing prison detention after he tried to organize a mass imaginary protest to memorialize the Tiananmen Square massacre.

How could we not believe his sympathetic story? After all, the artist has been profiled by “The New Yorker” and is publishing a book. When we meet contrarian artist Wang Min (terrific El Beh) in her discussion with outstanding actor Elissa Stebbins, our ideas about journalistic and artistic truth are further confused and disordered. Rather than spoil the experience, suffice it to say, that as audience members, we must sift through multiple scenes, vantage points, styles and ideas until we find, or think that we have found, the truth … as we understand it.

Director Susannah Martin has been involved with Christopher Chen in the development of “Caught’ since the play’s inception. Her intimacy with the project shows in her taut and agile direction. “Caught” succeeds on multiple levels, as it questions our willingness to believe ideas that mesh with our preconceived notions of art and race and asks us to examine the value of absolute journalistic truth. The real conundrum of the evening is how Christopher Chen’s inventive barrier-busting play can be presented in such an ingeniously entertaining fashion, even as it leaves so many paradoxical ideas rolling around in our heads. “Caught” is like a theatrical seismic event. It’s a fantastic addition to the Shotgun Players’ season.

This review originally appeared in Berkeleyside.com.

San Francisco,
Emily S. Mendel, a writer and photographer, has been a regular contributor to culturevulture.net since 2006, where she reviews theater, art, film, television and destinations. Ending her 30-year law practice has given Ms. Mendel the time to indulge in her love of travel and the arts, and to serve as the theater reviewer for berkeleyside.com.