Caught opens with an introduction from Lin Bo, played by Louis Ozawa Changchien, as he shares his story of being imprisoned in China for almost two years for a crime that he didn’t commit. He presents himself in a humble way, and paints a vivid picture of prison life – down to the bland meal choices that were served every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner – making for an extremely compelling account. Changchien explains that the full story is part of his upcoming memoir and jokes that a partial reason for his speech may be fulfilling the publicity requirement.
The play then moves on to the present time, where Bo’s journey is being featured in New York Magazine as he stops at their offices to meet with the editors for some last-minute fact checking. While it starts off as an exciting meeting between Bo and the writer Joyce (Leslie Fray) and her editor Bob (Murphy Guyer), the tide quickly changes when we learn that all of Bo’s experiences in prison do not exactly add up to the accounts recorded by a college professor who did thorough research on Detention Center 7, where Bo claimed to have been held. The suspense thickens.
The beauty of Chen’s technique lies in engaging the audience in a guessing game that they don’t immediately know they are a part of – presenting them with certain messages that appear to be true, but challenge them to think about it from a different perception. One of the main themes is examining the different viewpoints between the Chinese and American cultures and how perceptions can be skewed. The result is a clever and eye-opening puzzle that teaches important lessons around the human experience in a shocking way by offering extremes.
The cast under Lee Sunday Evans’ direction are excellent players in on the ruse and they rely on intense emotion to drive their points home. Changchien’s Bo is an accomplished storyteller and extremely moving with his words and descriptions. Especially entertaining is Fray as Joyce, the toiling journalist, who appears professional on the outside but is a sea of emotions on the inside, ready to boil over during moments of conflict and confusion.
Jennifer Lim’s Wang Min plays her character of the artist in a way that is both witty and strategic with remarks that drive Joyce to the point of insanity. Their exchanges are heated and passionate while trying to remain ladylike. The combination is brilliant. Guyer’s Bob embodies the no-nonsense persona of a top New York editor — using his wit, intelligence, and shrewdness to uncover the real truth.
Costume designer Junghyun Georgia Lee carefully attires each cast member according to their profession, with Fray dressed in a business suit and pumps and the artist dressed in more free-flowing and bohemian clothing and jewelry. The lighting design by Barbara Samuels intensifies the experiences of being locked in a prison cell with the brightness and the set design by Arnulfo Maldonado actually inspires feelings of claustrophobia.
Kudos to Mr. Chen for producing something so innovative and absorbing – guaranteed to keep people scratching their heads long after they leave the theater.
Caught (extended through September 24, 2016)
The Play Company
La Mama Studios, 66 E. 4th Street, between 2nd Avenue and The Bowery, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.playco.org
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission