Here’s another chance for the reviewer to use that classic Monty Python title, “And Now for Something Completely Different”. Lately, it feels like those opportunities are coming up at least twice a year. But the current production, Caught, at the Rep Studio qualifies beyond any possible doubt.
The first clue is that entering the theatre, one is not given a program, but rather a piece of paper talking about a hybrid theatre/art installation that has been put in front of the stage. Paintings, a screen for film – yes, it does seem to be an art gallery. Seth Gordon, who’s the director, steps up to a podium, runs through the usual pre-show rituals about cell phones and so on, and then introduces us to the artist, who’s originally from China. He’s played by Kenneth Lee.
And we’re off. The next scene switches to the office of The New Yorker, a conference with the artist and New Yorker editorial personnel, played by Rachel Fenton and Jeffrey Cummings. Then follows a conversation with the playwright, who’s played by Rachel Lin. Wait. The writer of the show is played by an actor? Yes. And this is where we realize things are getting seriously strange. The fourth wall, that convention that says actors pretend the audience isn’t there, is a heap of construction dust by now.
For this show, the Rep asks critics not to use any spoilers. I’m willing to respect that. Reading the above, it should be obvious that describing Caught without spoilers is rather difficult if the idea is to, among other things, encourage the audience to see the play.
It is, to be sure, extremely interesting, giving us all kinds of questions to puzzle as the evening passes. Lee does a fine job with the twists of the evening. Fenton reminded me of a tennis player, hitting shots from all over the court, never landing a ball out of bounds and seldom slamming into the net. Cummings does a certain amount of scenery-chewing, but that’s obviously a directorial choice, and he carries it off well. Lin, on the other hand, is pretty subtle, with a hard-to-read character at all points.
The script, to continue the tennis simile, makes some spectacular shots and misses a couple of groaners. It’s delightful to hear the skewering of the long-winded navel gazing that can occur in Serious Conversations about Art – but a shorter skewer would have been just as effective with this particular dish. The last scene also would have benefited from some tightening. The actual playwright, not the one onstage, is Christopher Chen.
Robert Mark Morgan is the scenic designer, with work from installation artist Albert Yowshien Kuo. Their work merges very well indeed, even in the small venue of the Studio. Rusty Wandall’s sound is subtle but effective; Ann G. Wrightson is the lighting designer.
I’m still pondering why Cummings was on Fenton’s office floor so long, but it’s only one of the things to think about in Caught. No intermission. If you go with friends, plan on stopping somewhere to hash things out.
through March 25
Repertory Theatre St. Louis
Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts
130 Edgar Rd., Webster Groves