Playwright: Christopher Chen
At: Sideshow Theatre Company at Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave.
Tickets: 773-871-3000 or
Runs through: July 3
Playwright Christopher Chen is having a field day playing with notions of truth in a succession of theatrical contexts and arguments about cultural appropriation in Caught. And clearly the cast members of Sideshow Theatre Company's Chicago premiere, under the "gotcha" direction of Seth Bockley, look like they're enjoying Chen's assuredness in messing with the minds of audiences.
Caught begins as a lecture in a modern art museum as an exiled Chinese conceptual artist named Lin Bo ( Ben Chang ) relates how he devised an "imaginary protest" to commemorate Beijing's 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. Once the censorious Communist regime traces this all back to Lin Bo, his lecture then delves into his frightening time in a squalid prison.
But then Caught shifts to Lin Bo being questioned about the veracity of his prison story in the offices of The New Yorker. Journalist Joyce ( Ann James ) and her nosy editor, Bob ( Bob Kruse ), are in a conniption because so many details of Lin Bo's story appear to be lifted from other sources.
Even more questions into notions of "truth" and "interpretation" come to the fore with Wang Min ( Helen Young ), another Chinese conceptual artist who goes on the attack by bringing up journalistic and literary scandals. She specifically name checks the controversies involving the public radio program This American Life and how it gave a platform for performance artist Mike Daisey's monologue The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.
Now all the ideas that Chen explores in Caught would be a dream to communications professors who need powerful teaching examples for topics like semantics and interpretation. But as a theatrical work, Caught comes off more like an indulgent play of flashy ideas that ape Pirandello rather than developing a dramatic arc where you come to care about any of the characters' plights.
At the very least, Bockley and his cast relish the twists and turns of Chen's script. They certainly wring plenty of comedy out of Chen's smug and smarty-pants material.
Sideshow's Caught is also visually rich onstage, particularly set designer Kurtis Boetcher who provides an ample gallery space to showcase the eye-catching work of "gallerist" Paul Hopkin and "featured visual artist" Larry Lee. The play's many shifts in tone are also illuminated well in the work of lighting designer Claire Chrzan ( she particularly creates a kaleidoscope of color for the tower constructed of Chinese take-out boxes ).
Chen's Caught delights in pointing out how truths are merely constructs based upon an individual's interpretation. And while that's all good and true in Sideshow's fine production, just be aware that the show is more engaging for your head than your heart.