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Fong Chau as Lin Bo in Landing Theatre's production of Caught.EXPAND
Fong Chau as Lin Bo in Landing Theatre's production of Caught.
Photo by Stephen Miranda

Truth Is Given Compelling Consideration In Caught

Truth. Is it what we see? What we are told? What we tell ourselves? Can one person or one culture’s truth be weighed against another’s?

Given the news cycle of the last year or so, these questions may sound like the intro to a long form think-piece on the Black Lives Matter movement, or the #MeToo reckoning or the Trump “fake news” political strategy. Each of these an urgently pressing and more than worthy conversation.

But what if we told you this discussion of truth was simultaneously smaller and much less important, yet somehow larger and more all-encompassing than anything you catch on the evening news. What if this discussion of truth was not about how we see the world per se, but how we see, period?

Caught, the Obie Award-winning play from San Francisco playwright Christopher Chen, serves up truth on a silver platter, smashes it to bits and rebuilds it anew, only to tear down our belief yet again. It’s at once curious, vexing, cerebral, funny, revealing, provoking and in this superb production by Landing Theatre, it’s the kind of show those of us wanting a stylistically different and more challenging type theater crave.

It’s also the kind of show that works best, the less you know about it going in. To put it bluntly, Chen is screwing with our minds in this show to make his point. There are twists and turns and reveals and while at the end of the 90-minute show we really aren’t 100 percent sure what to believe, it hits its purpose hard. Truth is slippery, get on board.

With that in mind, here’s at least a little plot to help bring the show to life on paper and whet your whistle.

In wonderful meta-methodology, Caught, a play ostensibly about art and artists, takes the audience out of the bricks and mortar theater and invites us to an art gallery. In this case, the Clarke and Associates Gallery, an unassuming space of what appears to be emerging and mid-career contemporary talents. This alone puts honey on my toast, as if I had my way, more theater would be performed in art galleries, thematically simpatico or not. Who says one medium isn’t enhanced by the presence of another?

As we take our folding seat in the gallery, out comes Lin Bo (an emotionally fluid Fong Chau), a Chinese dissident artist present to give a talk on his work and explain the path that brought him here to Houston and to this gallery/theater company. With horror and empathy, we listen as Bo recounts how his subversive art landed him in a Chinese jail, where he was tortured for nothing more than his creative instinct that spoke truth about a post Tiananmen Square China.

His tale is fascinating. The work he describes is fascinating. Bo himself is assured and charismatic. But is it true? Any of it? Is it all a lie? What about the four connected scenes that follow? The New Yorker reporter (Arianna Bermudez) and editor (Colin Brock) that grill Bo on the truthfulness of the story about him that they’ve published. The curator (Bermudez again) and a guest artist (a show-stopping Hannah Lee) engaged in a hilarious mind bender tangle of artist statement, appropriation, truth and blame. Or what about the final scene where Bo and his artist partner, Wang Min (Lee again proving that no matter what role she plays we can’t and don’t want to take our eyes off her) realize that truth they claim to know may not necessarily be the truth front of their eyes all along.

Are any of these scenarios what they seem?

Chen’s ability to both confound us with every scene, drawing us in then punishing us for our gullibility, stings like sweet revelation. “A lie is a new home after being adrift”, one of Chen’s characters tell us. It’s both upsetting and comforting at the same time. We know we should question, and we do, a bit. But darn it if the dialogue isn’t so compelling that we throw caution to the wind and get caught up in the action or the thesis or the tension and forget not to trust what our eyes show us.

But even with Chen’s clever tricks, without astute timing, Caught could easily fall into farcical territory. But not on Director Stephen Miranda’s watch. Just take a look at the final scene, one that calls for pauses and silence and discomfort to make it pop. Miranda isn’t afraid to let things be, to allow his characters room to think and process, knowing the anxiety it causes us. Too bad he says, tough it out. It’s ballsy direction and it serves Chen’s ideas gloriously.

Equally as ballsy is Landing Theatre itself, which prides itself on inclusionary and diverse American programming that means, “American the way it actually looks … stories interwoven by diverse cultures that collectively create our national identity”. There are a lot of companies in Houston that claim to reflect the true breadth of our culture. Most do it poorly or not at all. Landing is one of the few that actively and effectively gives different voices a platform on its stage. Not simply in casting, but in whose stories are being told.

Marry that with choosing work as invigorating as Chen’s and backing it up with a talented cast of diverse performers, and it’s easy to think or at least hope, that Landing and its model are the future of theater in this city.

Caught continues through June 30 at Clarke & Associates Gallery, 301 East 11th. For information, visit landingtheatre.org or call 562-502-7469. $12 - $100.

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