How do we interpret the truth? Is it a collection of assumptions, known facts, and lies agreed upon? Would we know a lie if we saw it, or would our minds interpret it as truth in the context of our moral obligation to believe it? Does wanting to believe something make a lie more plausible, and is the impact of a story negated if it lacks truthfulness?
Christopher Chen’s Caught, presented by Think Tank Gallery in collaboration with Firefly Theater & Films and Vs. Theatre, seeks to probe at the validity of narrative storytelling as it is made murky, submerged by an ever-increasing series of false paths. Chen’s words, when scattered throughout the innovative medium of immersive theatre, swirl into a wildly entertaining and often comedic study of truth, lies and the danger of belief. The story begins, changes, shifts and turns, confuses and delights, and, most importantly, never quite ends.
We enter Think Tank Gallery in Los Angeles to attend District 798, an art exhibit from China’s Xiong Collective, combined with a special presentation by Lin Bo (Louis Changchien), the Chinese dissident imprisoned for two years in Detention Center 7. He describes the horror of his captivity in the name of political protest art. Bo’s story is captivating, devastating, and compelling. He finishes his speech to stunned applause; but the curtains throughout the space literally and figuratively are pulled back to reveal the truth beneath the surface of his tale. But it doesn’t end there; more layers continue to be uncovered, a Russian nesting doll of conflicting narratives.
One of the most compelling and remarkable aspects of this piece is its brilliant execution. Director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar leads a truly skilled cast featuring Louis Changchien, Jackie Chung, Jessica Kaye and Steven Klein through a world class set by designer Stephen Gifford. The audience is pulled through a journey to discover whose story is actually being told—without a real hope of an answer. But that is the genuine appeal of Chen’s Obie award winning play: the truth in Caught is sought after, yet irrelevant; tangible, yet unreachable; a clever undermining of traditional theater and how easily audiences accept a performance as the genuine product. It’s beyond refreshing to see a subversive and thought-provoking narrative so successfully transitioned to an immersive setting.
Christopher Chen has done something remarkable: instilling an agency within his characters to subvert their own narrative and turn the entire story on its head. That agency is perhaps why this play translates so well to immersive theatre. Where before the standard was to create a space where audiences feel their personal decisions alter a narrative, in Caught the narrative is already in flux, and continues to reveal additional layers that spin away from participants in a delirious and exciting storm. We play witness to a truth that is actively stretched, interpreted, and altered to suit who is presenting it.
Caught expertly achieves a harmonious blend of razor sharp comedy and intellectual discourse on the meaning of art and performance as a whole. The brilliant cast further blurs the line between audience and performer with their commitment to the multi-faceted narrative. Chen’s work provides a diatribe on art and how it can defy interpretation; a story that extends without termination. That’s the thing about a tale told right: it lingers on with it’s audience; it never needs to end.
Tickets for Caught can be purchased here. For more information please visit Think Tank’s website, or follow them on Instagram or Facebook. More information on the dissident Xiong Collective is available at this link.