All plays play with your head, but few so cleverly and relentlessly as Christopher Chen’s “Caught,” now in the Guthrie’s Dowling Studio. Almost from the start, you’re asked to question the disbelief you’ve just suspended. And every time you think you have figured things out, or you finally understand a character’s motives, argument or point of view, “Caught” takes another turn or doubles back on itself.
The play is being presented by Full Circle Theater, the company Rick Shiomi co-founded after leaving Theater Mu. Shiomi first directed “Caught” at its 2014 world premiere in Philadelphia, earning a Barrymore Award nomination for outstanding direction. That was before we had a president in the White House who had made more than 10,000 false or misleading claims.
Do we really need a reminder that we live in a world of lies? More than ever, if only to cut through the numbness. “Caught” is quick and entertaining, the cast strong and the twists unpredictable. Add the fact that all tickets are $9 (“Caught” is part of the Guthrie’s Mellon-funded Level 9 Initiative) and it’s silly not to go. Who wouldn’t want to see Brian Kim and Katie Bradley together on stage? If you loved them in last year’s “The Korean Drama Addict’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity” at Mu, you’ll love them in “Caught.”
The play begins for each of us as we walk into the Dowling and onto the stage, which is set up as an art gallery. Guides tell us the work on the walls is by a Chinese dissident artist named Lin Bo. When we take our seats, gallery curator Susan Miller (Shana Eisenberg) introduces the artist. From behind a podium, Lin Bo (Kim) tells us that he was profiled in the New Yorker. That he has a memoir coming out. That he was imprisoned for two years in a Chinese detention center because of a single work of art. Not even a real work of art, like the ones we see on the walls, but a hypothetical work of art. He conceived it and promoted it on social media, but it didn’t exist.
In the second scene, we’re in an office at the New Yorker, where the writer of the profile (Erika Kuhn) and her editor (Edwin Strout) have some questions for Lin Bo. The third scene takes us back to the gallery, where Miller interviews another Chinese artist, Wang Min (Bradley).
Wang Min has created a hybrid theater art installation piece (not seen) inspired by examples of lying and plagiarism in the United States. Her main inspiration (and Chen’s for the play) was Mike Daisey’s “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” which was heard on NPR’s “This American Life” and later revealed to be riddled with falsehoods. Mentions are made of Brian Williams, the NBC Nightly News anchor who lied about his helicopter crash in Iraq, and James Frey, whose memoir “A Million Little Pieces” was exposed by Oprah as a lie.
These were actual events. We know they really happened. “Caught” uses them as launch points for exploring America’s relationship to truth and how our “rules of truth” shape our global outreach. The conversation between Miller and Wang Min is the densest, trickiest part of the play.
The penultimate scene finds Wang Min and Lin Bo in conversation about the Chinese dissident artist Yu Rong, someone they both knew well. The play ends with Wang Min and Lin Bo addressing the crowd.
And we stumble into the night, heads spinning. On the way out, we’re handed a “Fact and Fiction” cheat sheet created by dramaturge Martha J. Johnson. It spells out the facts and fictions in the play. Think of it as a little lifeboat.
“Caught” runs through June 2. FMI, times and tickets ($9).
‘MN Original’ visits Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, Proof Public, the Minneapolis Art Lending Library and Fancy Ray
Where else but Minnesota can you find a still-standing, successful dinner theater, a letterpress print shop with equity as its goal, an art lending library and the best-looking man in comedy? Sunday’s Minnesota Original zooms in on Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, Proof Public, the Minneapolis Art Lending Library and the one and only Fancy Ray McCloney.
Chanhassen, one of the few remaining dinner theaters in the nation, recently celebrated its 50th anniversary with the biggest show in its history, “Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn.” All 200 costumes, the wigs, the sound and light design, and the sets were produced in its shops, another rarity. We learn a bit about the Chan’s past, why actors like it there (in Ann Michels’ words, “working at Chanhassen is like coming home”) and how Artistic Director Michael Brindisi picks plays. And we get a few glimpses of former Star Tribune theater critic Graydon Royce, who appeared in “Holiday Inn.”
Letterpress printer Elana Schwartzman wanted her Minneapolis studio to serve her community. So she got together with other printmakers and started Proof Public to amplify marginalized voices through printing. At one of Proof Public’s open houses, anyone with something to say can print it – and make multiple copies. Schwartzman calls it “a positive and empowering experience.”
The Minneapolis Art Lending Library (MALL) got its start when founders Mac Balentine, Julia Caston and Larson Husby saw art lending libraries in Europe. Today anyone with ID can go to one of MALL’s lending events – usually at a park building or public library – and check out an original work of art to keep for three months, free of charge. MALL is a constantly rotating gallery in people’s homes. (We usually let you know about lending events in this column.)
The Fancy Ray McCloney segment is a whirlwind tour of his wonderfulness, from his start as a Little Richard impersonator to his work as a stand-up comic and pitch man, his 1998 run for governor (Jesse Ventura won), getting his hair done and munching on celery. McCloney is a beacon of positivity. “I’m the first, the last, the best and the most,” he proclaims. “I’m the heartbeat of Minneapolis and my beauty is coast to coast!” No argument here.
“Minnesota Original” airs Sunday at 10 p.m. on TPT 2. This is the 10th season. All previous seasons are online and searchable.
Tonight (Friday, May 24) and Saturday at the Southern: St. Paul Ballet: “ThreeFold.” Three big names in our dance community – Penelope Freeh, Helen Hatch and Sally Rousse – have created three new works in honor of dancer and teacher Bonnie Mathis. Freeh reimagines her 2009 quartet “Simple Folk,” set to folk songs transcribed by Beethoven. Hatch joins forces with musician Seth Conover of Poolboy for “The Machine Stops,” based on a 1909 science-fiction story by E.M. Forster. Rousse’s “Reckoning Agents,” inspired by spying, features a pulsive sound score. Friday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2:00 and 7:30. FMI and tickets ($13-28; Saturday at 2 p.m. is pay-as-able).
Saturday in the Baroque Room: “Inspired by Jazz: Ravel, Gershwin and Piazzolla.” Pianist Gloria Shih and violinist Marc Levine will perform works by all three composers that were directly inspired by jazz and are even jazzy. The program includes Gershwin’s preludes for solo piano, Piazzolla’s Tango Etudes 1-3 and Grand Tango, and Ravel’s Violin Sonata No. 2. Arrive early or stay a little late to view the art exhibit by New York painter Jenny Lin. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($15/$5 students).
Sunday at the Dakota: Clara Osowski and Jeremy Walker: “Haunted Blue.” An encore performance of last October’s CD release by what at first seemed an unlikely pairing, then made perfect sense. Osowski, a mezzo-soprano with a growing international reputation, teamed with composer and jazz pianist Jeremy Walker for an album of all-original jazz art songs. The recording is sublime, but the best way to experience “Haunted Blue” is live. This time, Osowski and Walker will share behind-the-scenes stories about their collaboration. 6 p.m. FMI and tickets ($20). We spoke with Osowski in October.
Starts Monday: Music in the Parks. Minneapolis’ annual summer blowout of free music starts on Memorial Day with two concerts at the Lake Harriet Bandshell: Sawyer’s Dream at 5:30 p.m. and “Rubber Soul: Tribute to the Beatles” at 7:30. Go here to download all the music schedules: Lake Harriet, Nicollet Island, Father Hennepin Bluff, Minnehaha, and Bryant Square. And here for all the movies. (Those start June 4.) Then plan your free summer fun.
Starts Tuesday at the Film Society’s St. Anthony Main Theatre: Great Art on Screen. For seven months on the fourth Tuesday of each month, the Film Society will screen a 90-minute documentary about a great artist. The series begins with “Van Gogh: Of Wheat Fields and Clouded Skies” and masterpieces from the Kröller-Müller Museum in the Netherlands, the second-largest collection of Van Gogh’s works in the world. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($15-10).
Opens Tuesday at the Orpheum: “Dear Evan Hansen.” The Broadway blockbuster roars into town on its first national tour. The story of a teenage boy trying to fit in features a score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (“La La Land”) and a book by playwright Steven Levenson. The “heartbreaker of a musical” will be here through June 9, with tickets limited to four per person and released daily for upcoming performances. Sign up for the lottery here. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($74-199). Buy in person at the State Theatre box office, save on fees.