BWW Review: Get Yourself CAUGHT For a Fantastic Immersive Experience At Think Tank
For a most wonderfully complete, immersive theatre/gallery experience; get yourself, and anyone you like, to Think Tank Gallery in Downtown L.A. to catch the Los Angeles premiere of Christopher Chen's Obie Award-winning CAUGHT. So easy to see why Chen won his 2016 Obie, with the substantial food for thought underneath all his witty observations.
Director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar has most deftly orchestrated a totally engrossing two-hour theatrical event to immediately involve each audience member as soon as they enter the gallery door. After checking in at the reservation desk, you are escorted into the art gallery to view the hanging pieces on exhibit. As you walk through, various hosts and hostesses greet you, introducing themselves and making pleasant conversation, while informing you with info tidbits of the exhibition. They even bring you drinks and steer you over to plates of egg rolls. You get to meet the two exhibiting artists and simply soak in the creative gallery vibes with like-minded people appreciating art and/or theatre.
As the audience has comfortably taken various places around the gallery, some standing, some sitting; a gallery employee gives a hearty introduction for the Chinese dissident artist Lin Bo. Lin Bo walks through the gallery waxing poetic on his harrowing experience spending eighteen months in China's Detention Center 7. After his heart-felt speech, all are guided into the next room, lined with benches surrounding a raised floor-lit stage. In this space, Lin Bo meets his interviewer and her editor from New Yorker magazine.
(Spoiler Alert!!! Don't read on if you truly want to be surprised by the entire evening's events.)
All players in CAUGHT eventually admit that they actually are actors playing the roles of the artists and others. Very meta, like a play within a play, but it really works. Louis Ozawa Changchien embodies the imprisoned artist Lin Bo. So believable as Lin Bo and his tales of imprisonment that when confronted by Joyce, the New Yorker journalist and Bob, her editor; one tends to believe Changchien/Lin Bo' s truths over Joyce and Bob's arguments contradicting Lin Bo's story of his time in jail. This particular scene most successfully plays as a high-camp soap opera with dramatic background music complementing Jessica Kaye's Joyce's delightfully over-the-top hurt and disappointments. Steven Klein's Bob readily backs Joyce up in her convictions, sturdily bringing up some of his own theories of the truth. Wonderful scene of the three actors interacting at the top of their forms! After bows to very appreciative applause, the audience is invited to peruse the art. I was more than happy with this as the ending of the evening, but was luckily corrected to enjoy the intermission before the second act.
"Intermission" includes more passed drinks and candies and more interaction with the personable gallery personnel/Immersive Company Members.
Returning back to the room with the floor-lit stage, the room's configuration has morphed into a lecture hall floorplan. The magnetic Jessica Kaye now essays the role of Galley Curator interviewing the second exhibiting artist, a defiant, argumentative Wang Min, hysterically played by Jackie Chung. Wang Min's confident reasoning conflicts with Joyce's strong personal views. Does one's perception of another's lies simply due to their different truths, especially if both believe what they believe? Then who's lying? Who's appropriating facts? Their give-and-take -some sensible, most non - set up a most entertaining ping-pong match of wits, which unfortunately was interrupted by an over enthusiastic audience member who annoyingly made herself part of the show.
In CAUGHT's final scene, most cleverly staged from the vantage point of the actors looking into a dressing room mirror directly into the audience, Chung and Changchien have their meta moments revealing they're really actors unwinding after their respective scenes. Or aren't they still actors playing actors? Chung and Changchien wow with their impeccably timed synchronized looks and reactions. Very nice!
Kudos to environmental/scenic designer Stephen Gifford for his seamless gallery/theatre atmosphere. And cheers to the combined efforts of Firefly Theater & Films, Think Tank Gallery and Vs. Theatre in producing this unique theatrical happening. Food and drinks served were real and tasty. Were the two artists 'real'? The art pieces hung on the walls were 'really' for sale. Or were they?
Go yourself and find out. If you're an art lover/theatre aficionado, you will get CAUGHT up in a most entertaining, good time.