Caught, the performance piece/play/mindfuck currently running at Artists Repertory Theatre, is a little better if you don’t know its secrets. So if you’re planning to see it regardless of this review, don’t read any further. I was asked not to spoil it, but ma’m, I aim to.
Caught starts out strongly enough by breaking Artists Repertory Theatre’s usual boundaries, combining the exhibition space of the Geezer Gallery in the lobby with half the Morrison Stage, which has been transformed into a continuation of the gallery show. At the entrance, there’s a confrontational living statue—an actor dressed as Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, bobbing his hand like a lucky cat figurine. The visage of Mao recurs throughout the installation, culminating in a peg board where people dutifully push little United States flags into Mao’s portrait. It’s a curious scene to witness, as a predominantly white theatergoing audience pushes little American flags into a foreign dictator’s face—like a Stanford Prison Experiment for cultural sensitivity. They encouraged us in our worst behavior and we followed without resistance.
Playwright Christopher Chen wrote Caught to exist first as a visual art exhibition, then as a performance piece, then as a play, and finally as a lie that the audience is asked to perpetuate. My main problem with Caught is not the fake story we were asked to propagate—that the performance was a talk by dissident artist Lin Bo—but that the whole affair is tedious and patronizing. Having watched two hours of bad Chinese accents (intentionally, I have no doubt) and bad portrayals of New Yorker journalists (intentional, I have no doubt) I was unsure of what the play was saying other than, “Are you stupid enough to continue this chain letter-style lie-fest?”
Inspired by the factual controversy surrounding Mike Daisey’s 2012 monologue piece The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Caught seeks to shame its audience into being more wary of believing what they’re told. It then asks them to unlearn that lesson and lie to their friends about the performance now that they are—wink, wink—in on the conspiracy. There was nothing in Caught to hold onto other than dishonesty, suspicion, and the sighs of the elderly man sitting next to me. For me, the last straw was the play’s final line, which, at curtain call, informs everyone that Caught was inspired by phrases smuggled from an imprisoned Chinese dissident named Yu Rong before he died. That’s a lie, of course. It’s all a lie.