Lin Bo, The Chinese dissident artist, was sent to prison in China for staging an "imaginary protest" in honor of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. But now he's back on the outside with another gallery show—and freshly profiled in the New Yorker. In fact, he's here in Houston, attending a gallery opening, to recount his time as a prisoner and the inspiration behind his art. On the big night, he welcomes his audience and relays a speech, but it's soon discovered his entire recitation is a lie. Or is it?
This is Caught, the Obie Award-winning play from San Francisco playwright Christopher Chen. Cities like New York, London, and Seattle have already witnessed the hype surrounding the play after it first premiered in Philadelphia in 2014. Now, The Landing Theatre Company has collaborated with the Heights' Clarke & Associates Gallery to bring the immersive theater piece to Houston—and to Texas—for the first time.Chen’s inspiration is a familiar national incident: the Mike Daisy-Apple scandal that unfolded via This American Life. For the episode, Daisey, an actor, performed an excerpt from his one-man show The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs that stated embellished and false facts about the working conditions of FoxConn factories in China where Apple products are built. The flubs caused a whirlwind controversy and led to a rare retraction from the radio show. Caught uses that Daisey incident as narrative scaffolding to explore a big, timeless question: What exactly is truth?
“It is an interesting approach to this story—and what is happening with this subject—by making it centered around a piece of art,” says Caught director Stephen Miranda.
The play itself has a cast of only four characters, including Lin Bo, who present various issues on social justice, art, Western beliefs about China, and—most importantly—the truth. Without giving too much away, it’s safe to say nothing is what it seems in this play. Daisey himself called Caught “an intriguing puzzle box of a play.”
For his part, Miranda compares the show to a dice that continues rolling, where the characters are being viewed from several angles, and that it offers one story with several ways of facing it. The play takes many twists and turns, but the point is for the audience to grapple with how we can interpret the meaning of truth today.
“The fact that it does leave us with a lot of questions to go back out into society and answer kind of in the way we live our lives and how we approach truth—and the way we approach art,” Miranda says. "I think it’s one of those plays that really doesn’t give us a pin-pointed answer.”
And rather than a traditional theater with a proscenium stage, the play takes place amid one of the exhibits at Clarke & Associates. Seating will be available, but the play is a fully immersive 90-minute experience. Audiences can enjoy the Ambiente Amor exhibit by Felipe Lopez before the actors step onto the “stage.” Miranda believes experiencing the gallery is an important part of the act because it gets the audience ready to experience the first few scenes. Although the exhibit has no connection with the play, there will be a featured piece by local Chinese artist Hang Gao on set.
“We like to do theater that forces an audience to think,” Miranda says. “I think that’s what keeps our audiences coming back, because we produce that type of work exclusively. So, this is a fascinating play that opens so many questions up for discussion.”
Thru June 30. Landing Theatre Company at Clarke & Associates Gallery, 301 East 11th St. 562-502-7469. More info and tickets at landingtheatre.org.