Americans can’t get China right in Christopher Chen’s Caught, now being produced by the Play Company at La Mama and directed cleanly by Lee Sunday Evans in a white downstairs studio. The author’s four loosely connected playlets are comic and subversive, cerebral exercises on the culture wars in the U.S., as well as in China. We are reminded of the lapses in judgment of Mike Daisey and James Frey—and their lashings in the media–as well as the enormous prices Chinese artists have had to pay regarding freedom of speech. The playwright’s technique is reminiscent of that in Dadaism, and one of his early impulses may have been to draw mustaches on capitalistic artists who, although working on socially relevant subjects, are, in reality, more interested in personal success (“tasting a peach to understand an apple”). Slyly, Chen plants tares in with his dramaturgical wheat, and these one acts become about rooting them out, as, ultimately, little jokes sprout into lies. The characters are intellectuals, wannabe artists, editors, and professors—people who seem more drawn to the dangerous art of packaging and interpreting. They are examining the infrastructure and cultural paradigms of a China critically misinterpreted in the West—and come up dumbfounded or physically ill: One of Chen’s strong abilities in these works is to destabilize an audience, finding intellectual soft spots and toying with illusion vs. reality. Nevertheless, whether Chen is just being playful or proud of his heritage or both, he appears to be saying that those from China have more cultural dimension, more understanding of life than Americans or even Chinese-Americans, portrayed here scarfing down fast food.
Caught seems truncated, however. The stories are too quickly resolved, and they clamor to be more fully fleshed out. Viewers may think they are watching sketches, intellectual vanishing acts—opportunities left unexplored or unexposed. How much more penetrating the pieces would be if the audience followed the course of an artist who does suffer the fate of one accused in China—or in the U.S.—and who does have to sustain the aftermath (what does that look, much less feel like?). Chen and Evans may be saying that we are already in jail: prisons made of our own paradigms—where we are unable to grasp a different cultural point of view. They could be right, too, especially now, in that America is preoccupied weighing globalism before the upcoming American presidential election and having just witnessed the British vote on Brexit.
Toward the end of Caught Chen has a moment where the audience is told about an artist who has wistfully remembered his days as a child: living in a Chinese village of “no lies”–where there was a moral center, and where things were what they were. Depending on how those thoughts are interpreted (1949 is a key date to consider, as that is the year when China officially claimed that it was Communist), theatregoers may decide that he was or was not becoming nostalgic for a socialist paradigm. Interpreting Caught in such terms, the open arms of American understanding may be emboldened–or, otherwise, turn as chilly as those of a Dadaist. As is symptomatic of this work, enticing confusion reigns.
Caught by Christopher Chen
Directed by Lee Sunday Evans
With Louis Ozawa Changchien, Leslie Fray, Murphy Guyer, Jennifer Lim
Visit La Mama at: http://lamama.org/
For those interested in stories of young Chinese lives today, listen to a reading of Wish Lanterns by Alec Ash on BBC Radio 4:
THE PLAY COMPANY EXTENDS CHRISTOPHER CHEN’S CAUGHT THROUGH SEPTEMBER 24
The Play Company presents
Caught (New York Premiere)
By Christopher Chen
Directed by Lee Sunday Evans
Designed by Arnulfo Maldonado, Junghyun Georgia Lee, Barbara Samuels and Jeremy S. Bloom
Summer Shares at La MaMa (66 E. 4th Street)
*Summer Shares at La MaMa makes theatre spaces available to artists for non-curated productions
Preview Performances: August 17–27 at 7.30pm
Official Opening: August 28 at 7pm
Regular performances: August 30–September 3, September 5–10 & September 12–17 (Mon – Sat at 7.30pm)
First Extension: Sept. 19 – 24 at 7:30pm
Tickets: $45; Premium Reserved $55 Sept. 19-24 / $35 General Admission / $15 Student Advance / $10 Student Rush
In response to popular demand, The Play Company (PlayCo), led by Founding Producer Kate Loewald and Interim Managing Director, Robert G. Bradshaw, extends the New York premiere of Christopher Chen’s Caught to September 24, the final production in the company’s 15th Anniversary Season. The stellar cast includes Jennifer Lim (Chinglish), Murphy Guyer (The King & I),Louis Ozawa Changchien (The Bourne Legacy) and Leslie Fray.
In this irreverent new genre-bending piece, theatre makers Christopher Chen and Lee Sunday Evans apply their playful imaginations to the work of a Chinese dissident artist. This hybrid art-theatre work instigates an exploration into the nature of authority and authenticity, inviting you to navigate the labyrinthine relationships between truth and perception, illusionary art and real jeopardy.
PlayCo has a unique commitment to premiering work from around the world to advance a dynamic, international experience of contemporary theater in New York. Caught, which marks U.S. writer Chen’s New York debut,is a subversive meditation on the politics of cultural appropriation. Chen & Sunday Evans collaborate on a rabbit hole experience in which layers of meaning unfold to stage a theatrical discussion about hidden stereotyping.
Award winning, West Coast-based, playwright Christopher Chen writes plays that examine the hidden patterns beneath complex systems: socio-political systems, psychological systems, systems of power. Caught received a Sundance residency during its development, and has been performed internationally, with recent and upcoming productions in Philadelphia, Seattle, Chicago and Berkeley. Chen is currently working on commissions for American Conservatory Theater, The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Crowded Fire Theater Company and the San Francisco Playhouse.
Performances of Caught will now take place through September 24 (see performance schedule above) at Summer Shares at La MaMa, located in Manhattan. Critics are welcome as of August 24 for an official opening on August 28. Tickets for the original run (August 28 – September 17) are $35 for general admission and $45 for premium reserved; tickets for the extension (September 19 – 24) are $55/$35. Tickets can be purchased by visiting playco.org or calling 866-811-4111. $15 Student advance tickets are subject to availability (must present ID at box office) and $10 Student rush tickets are available at the box office 30 minutes prior to curtain for each performance, no advance sales, with a valid student ID.
About The Artists
Christopher Chen is an international award-winning playwright whose full-length works have been produced and developed across the United States and abroad, at companies such as the American Conservatory Theater, Arcola Theatre (London), Asian American Theater Company, Bay Area Playwrights Festival, Beijing Fringe, Berkeley Rep/Ground Floor, Central Works, Crowded Fire, Cutting Ball Theater, Edinburgh Fringe, Fluid Motion, hotINK Festival, Impact Theatre, InterAct Theatre, Just Theatre, Lark Play Development Center, Magic Theatre, Playwrights Foundation, San Francisco Playhouse, Silk Road Rising, Sundance Theatre Lab, Theatre Mu, U.C. Berkeley/Zellerbach Playhouse and The Vineyard.
Honors include: the 2015-2016 Sundance Institute/Time Warner Foundation Fellowship for theater; the Paula Vogel Playwriting Award, through which he was the 2013-2014 playwright-in-residence at The Vineyard Theatre in New York; the Barrymore Award; PHINDIE Critics Award; the Glickman Award; the Rella Lossy Playwriting Award; shortlist for the James Tait Black Award; nomination for the Steinberg Award; 2nd Place in the Belarus Free Theater International Competition of Modern Dramaturgy; a MAP Fund Grant;
a Ford Foundation Emerging Writer of Color Grant; finalist for the PONY and Jerome Fellowships. Publications include American Theatre Magazine, Theatre Bay Area and Theater Magazine (Yale). A Bay Area native, Chris is a graduate of U.C. Berkeley and holds an M.F.A. in Playwriting from S.F. State.
Lee Sunday Evans is an Obie Award winning director and choreographer. Credits Include: Wellesley Girl by Brendan Pelsue (Humana), D Deb Debbie Deborah by Jerry Lieblich (Clubbed Thumb), A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks… by Kate Benson (OBIE Award – New Georges/Women’s Project), The Play About My Dad by Boo Killebrew (59E59), God’s Ear by Jenny Schwartz (Juilliard), Family Play (1979 to Present) by CollaborationTown, The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht with original music by Nicholas C. Williams. She was recently a Resident Artist at Baryshnikov Arts Center, participated in the Sundance Theater Lab, and has developed work at The Alley Theater, Juilliard, Robert Wilson's Watermill Center, The New Ohio, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Brooklyn Arts Exchange among others. As the resident director for CollaborationTown she creates ensemble-devised works; in this capacity, she is currently under commission from LCT3. Upcoming: Macbeth at Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, Don't You F**king Say a Word by Andy Bragen.
Louis Ozawa Changchien last appeared Off Broadway in the world premiere of The Tutors (Second Stage Theater). Other New York credits include Warrior Class (Second Stage), Year Zero (Second Stage), The Dumbwaiter (National Asian American Theatre Company), Crane Story (Playwrights Realm). Regional credits include Eurydice (Williamstown) and Hamlet (Trinity Rep). Changchien has appeared in the films Predators, The Bourne Legacy, Fair Game, Gigantic, The Sisterhood of Night, Someone Else, and Pretty To Think So. He will be appearing this summer in the Legendary Pictures action thriller Spectral. Mr. Changchien’s television credits include The Man in The High Castle, Agents of SHIELD, The Mysteries of Laura, Matador, True Blood, Hawaii Five-O, Law and Order, Blue Bloods, Deadbeat, Lights Out and The Miraculous Year. Changchien earned his MFA in acting from Brown University. He is an ensemble member of Partial Comfort Productions and The Actors Center Workshop.
Jennifer Lim made her Broadway debut starring in David Henry Hwang's Chinglish, for which she earned: a Theatre World Award for Outstanding Broadway Debut, the IASNY Trophy for Excellence, and a Drama Desk Nomination. Other credits include NYC: Tumacho (Clubbed Thumb), The World Of Extreme Happiness (MTC), The Urban Retreat (Public), The Most Deserving (Women’s Project), Golden Child (Signature), Vengeance Can Wait (P.S.122), YJLee’s Songs of The Dragons Flying to Heaven (HERE Arts), and Yokastas Redux (La MaMa E.T.C.). TV/Film: High Maintenance, Hell on Wheels (recurring), Person of Interest, Elementary, Good Wife, Blue Bloods, Law & Order (original/SVU and Criminal Intent), The Savages, and 27 Dresses. She earned her MFA from the Yale School of Drama and is an associate member of The Wooster Group. Jenniferlimonline.com
Murphy Guyer was last seen on stage in the Lincoln Center production of the The King & I. Other Broadway productions include Breakfast at Tiffany's, Glengarry Glen Ross with Al Pacino,Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, South Pacific, and The Caine Mutiny Court Martial. Recent off Broadway credits include Stalking the Bogeyman, Double Indemnity, and Minor Demons. Television credits include Billions, House of Cards, Blue Bloods, Person of Interest, Mildred Pierce, Rubicon, Sopranos, and inevitably, Law & Order. He's appeared in such films asWetlands, Feast of the Goat, Mercy Man, Arthur, and Jackal.
Leslie Fray is a recent graduate of the MFA acting program at NYU Tisch. Among her credits at NYU are Uncle Vanya (Marina), Vanya, Sonya, Masha, and Spike (Masha), A Bright Room Called Day (Agnes) and The Merchant of Venice (Portia). Leslie appeared as Estelle in The Rose Tattoo at Williamstown Theatre Festival this summer.
Arnulfo Maldonado is a New York City based set and costume designer. Notable design credits include: the world premieres of Anne Washburn's trans-adaption of Iphigenia In Aulis (Classic Stage Company), Max Posner's Judy (Page 73) and Jenny Schwartz and Todd Almond's IOWA (Playwrights Horizons), the U.S. premiere of debbie tucker green's generations (Soho Rep/PlayCo), the New York premiere of George Brant's Grounded (Page 73), Ain Gordon's Not What Happened (BAM's Next Wave Festival), and the U.S. premiere of Ivan Viripaev's Illusions (
Barbara Samuels is a New York based lighting designer and producer. Recent design credits include O Earth (Foundry Theatre), and A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes (New Georges/Women's Project, Obie Award), as well as collaborations with Katie Pearl, Brian Mertes, Melissa Kievman, Portia Krieger, Lee Sunday Evans, Julia Jarcho, Jessica Chayes, Shannon Gillen Lipinski and others. Barbara has served as General Manager of OBIE Award-winning 13P, is a 2016 Target Margin Institute for Theatre Making Fellow, and is currently the Producing Director of Morgan Gould & Friends. Fordham University, BA; NYU, MFA.
Junghyun Georgia Lee is a set and costume designer based in New York City. Born and raised in South Korea, She started her theater training in Canada. Later she earned her MFA from Yale School of Drama and started her design career in New York City. She has collaborated with many directors, playwrights and choreographer across the U.S., Europe and South Korea. She is a founding member of CHANCE MAGAZINE for theater design.
Jeremy S. Bloom (Sound Design) Selected designs include: Ed Iskandar's biblical marathon The Mysteries (Flea), Golden Lotus (Bway Asia), Taming of the Shrew (Shakespeare Theatre DC), Charlie Francis Chan Jr's Oriental Murder Mystery (NAATCO), Buried Child (New Group), Sojourners (
About The Play Company (PlayCo)
The Play Company is an OBIE Award-winning Off Broadway theater production company. Now in its fifteenth season, PlayCo has produced 30 new plays from the United States, Germany, Romania, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Japan, India, Mexico, France, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and England. PlayCo develops and produces adventurous new plays from the U.S. and around the world, advancing a dynamic global practice of contemporary theater and expanding the American theater repertoire.
As the only New York company regularly producing outstanding contemporary plays from around the world alongside new American work, PlayCo’s distinctive international programming links American theatre with world theater, American artists with the global creative community, and American audiences with a whole world of plays.