If a basic principle of finding success in the arts is to know your audience, and the etymological root of artifice is art, does that entitle an enterprising artist to disregard truthfulness and ethics, to create a web of lies to further his own career and personal gain? Many have done so, including the struggling immigrant artist Pei-Shen Qian, who was tied to an $80,000,000 art-forgery operation in New York last year, and author and monologist Mike Daisey, who was publicly disgraced for having fabricated the details of his ostensibly factual stories.
Art imitates life in InterAct Theatre Company’s world premiere production of Christopher Chen’s CAUGHT, a cynical comedy about unscrupulous behavior, gullibility, and responsibility tied into artistic identity, media hype, cultural appropriation, and social justice. After creating an incredible deception about having been imprisoned and tortured in a Chinese detention center, artist Lin Bo becomes a media sensation and the darling of a renowned art gallery; clearly, this [con] artist knew his audience and counted on the sympathy, fame, and book sales his harrowing story would engender. But equally laughable and disturbing is the response of those who were duped. Suffice it to say, so as not to spoil the script’s many surprises, all of the characters—the artists (the hilarious Justin Jain as Lin Bo and Bi Jean Ngo as the long-winded conceptualist Wang Min), the curator, editor, and magazine writer (Christie Parker, Ames Adamson, and Jessica DalCanton, who skillfully portray their increasing confusion, moral outrage, and exasperation with subtle humor, seething indignation, and explosive anger)—are faced with the choice of doing the right thing or serving their own self-interests, of coming clean or remaining silent, of exposing the deceit or justifying it.
CAUGHT is smart, sardonic, and challenging, filled with twists and turns, questionable acts, moral dilemmas, and thought-provoking decisions. It is well acted, seamlessly directed (by Rick Shiomi), and effectively designed (set by Melpomene Katakalos), including an exhibition of the fictitious Lin Bo’s photographs that the audience is invited to view on stage before the show, which sets the thematic tone of “the hazy relationship” between fiction and reality, between truth and art. It will leave you laughing, but also contemplating the nature of trust. When artful deceptions permeate an artist’s life—public and private, professional and personal—when an artist lives the lie and leads “an elaborate double life,” it casts doubt on everything we believe but never really knew. And isn’t that the true beauty of art—to inspire self-reflection, civic discourse, and ethical action? [Main Stage, Adrienne Theatre, 2030 Sansom St.] October 24-November 16, 2014; interacttheatre.org.
- Read Christopher Munden’s review of CAUGHT at InterAct Theatre Company.