You walk across the tan floors of the Elliott Program Center and look at art—neon faces and flesh-colored balloons and English letters dressed in the shape of Chinese Hanzi. You read the plaques and you learn about objectification, the gendering of bodies, artificiality, authenticity. Suddenly, the lights dim, and a well-dressed, impassioned artist takes up the podium for a TED-Talk like monologue. There are no introductions, no requests to silence cell phones or refrain from flash photography. You are not sure if the play has started or even who is part of the play—is the “artist” an actor or a real artist? Is anyone in the audience an actor? Are you, unknowingly, an actor yourself? This is Stanford’s Asian American Theater Production’s Caught: an exploration of freedom and oppression, China and Western perceptions of China, and, first and foremost, the pursuit of truth—or lack thereof.
Caught wraps your mind around in circles and then wraps it around some more. It is branded as a comedy, but to restrict Caught to one genre, or even to restrict it to theater alone, would be doing it a disservice. Caught is a blend of theater, art exhibit, philosophical discussion, and humor. The piece is split up into several small scenes that blend together, but also work separately. The first act, for example, is solely the previously mentioned speech of Lin Bo (Eric Wang ‘20), the presumed artist and activist. Despite the unexpected start of the scene, Lin bo’s monologue drags on at times. Yet the speech provides key context for the following act, a scene with three characters that at first feels like a scene from a more traditional play. But the end of this act, too, falls into a beautiful, whimsical chaos.
The second and third acts were by far the most powerful of the piece. The second act’s quick spin into a surprising and comedic satire seems so uncharacteristic of itself—from an intense drama, it becomes a whimsical act so over-the-top it is almost impossible to anticipate. It begins as a conversation between Lin, his editor (Bella Wilcox ‘19), and her supervisor (Reilly Clark ‘19). Tensions rise, particularly in regards to race, and lies are uncovered. The scene pushes on boundaries between cultures, questioning what it means to report, make news, and tell stories, especially when such stories come from a culture different from one’s own. Is it right to favor experience over facts? How must storytellers balance accuracy with respect?
The third act pulls a stunt similar to those of the first and second—it begins looking like one type of scene and then, unabashedly, becomes another. A conversation between two people, the third act allows philosophical and political dialogue to unfold in a dizzying manner. Here, the core theme of the pieces is expanded upon, taking both the characters and the audience on an intellectual trip not often seen in theater. It is these conversations and twists that make Caught stand out: it is completely unafraid in its chaos. Caught is not a play. It is more than that. It breathes art, politics, activism, and mindfulness.
Images courtesy of Frank Chen
Caught ran from March 2nd to March 4th at 8 PM at the Elliott Program Center.