If my feelings about An Octoroon were best summed up in an interpretative dance or abstract painting, my feelings regarding Christopher Chen’s Caught, playing at Artists Repertory Theatre through Oct. 29, are best summed up by laying on the floor and screaming into it.
Bridget Carrick, a student in Portland State’s Masters in Publishing program (and my plus one) remarked—after several moments of tandem hyperventilating—that the play was, “energizing and invigorating.”
Under the direction of Shawn Lee, the show highlights the artist Lin Bo, a dissident Chinese artist who was arrested and detained for two years by the Chinese government. The exhibit at Artists Repertory Theatre is the latest in artistic and theatrical partnerships with local theaters across the United States.
Caught is equal parts theater and art installation. Part workplace comedy. Part sitcom. Part interview. Part lecture. Caught defies the limits of what we expect from a theater from the minute audiences walk in the front door.
Visitors entering ART’s Morrison Lobby are treated to the sight of a life-size depiction of Mao, mimicking the arm gesture of the beckoning cat figurines that surround him. Audience members are invited to interact with a number of the works of art: portraits of Mao to cover with cocktail umbrellas and plastic daisies among other mass-produced items; a glowing red bed of rice surrounded by rakes, titled “Rice Zen Garden/Bloody Tiananmen Square;” small figurines, reminiscent of the holy figure of Mary one might find in a gift shop, covered in grains of rice. Curtains of empty price tags form small spaces to sit.
In addition to learning about more physical art by Lin Bo, during the production visitors will get a chance to learn about invisible art as well: an invisible protest staged in response to the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Lin Bo also discusses Beijing’s 789 Art Zone, a work and exhibition space for Beijing’s contemporary artists. “A government sanctioned tourist attraction,” Lin Bo calls it.
Over the 90-minute run time, audiences also listen to discussions about the nature of truth and lies, how art navigates that spectrum, and the rules of appropriation. Audience members are encouraged to think about Mike Daisey and James Frey, and the varied responses to their respective public lies.
Performers remark, “The different rules bump up against each other…[art and theater] work in tandem to undermine each other.” The possibilities of art expand and reverberate inside the theater space.
There’s a delight in hearing a slight pause before the verb “trumps” (as in “such and such…trumps this or that”), an effect used on at least two separate occasions. The word has been imbued with so very many connotations since the current president came into office.
I love art. I studied art history as an undergrad and continue to bring art history lessons into my rhetoric and composition, and creative writing courses.
After experiencing Caught, a chant took up in my head.
I love art. I love art. I love art. I love art. I love art. I love art. I love art. I love art. I love art. I love art. I love art. I love art. I love art. I love art. I love art. I love art. I love art. I love art. I love art. I love art. I love art. I love art. I love art. I love art. I love art. I love art. I love art. I love art.
With all that love, please understand me when I say the art installations and the play of the art with theater and the way they interact together caught me right in the gut, leaving me a little breathless and with a desire to scream into a pillow.
Caught is in production at Artists Repertory Theatre through Oct. 29. Visit www.artistsrep.org/onstage/201718-season/caught/ for tickets and information.