Caught by Christopher Chen, directed by Shawn Lee is a different kind of theatrical experience. Artists Repertory Theatre sets the scene, with an exhibit by the Chinese dissident artist Lin Bo in the theatre’s upstairs lobby and within the theatre itself.
Most of us are not accustomed to viewing an art exhibit as part of attending a related performance. Call it a “cultural appropriation” whereby the artist Lin Bo collaborates with the playwright and other Portland artists to tell his amazing story.
Lin works in a variety of media. Both the art exhibition and his performance deal with the nature of news, truth, and deception, and how fluid are the lines between them. Some of the works evoke the Cultural Revolution and the bloody massacre at Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. A collage of photos shows those missing since the massacre. A screen of white silk rose petals represents past and present Chinese dissidents. A more whimsical piece shows Chairman Mao with several cheap Chinese souvenirs.
In addition to the art exhibit, Lin Bo gives us a new theatrical piece, Qín (Caught), a lively exploration of the American obsession with story and narrative as markers for authenticity. Lin introduces the work, and discusses his harrowing experiences in detention under the Chinese authorities. “Recently profiled by The New Yorker Magazine, he is writing a book about his journey as a dissident artist in an authoritarian culture, which will be published following this tour.”
As if his story isn’t enough, however, it’s what happens at the end of Lin’s talk that grabs our attention. We are put on notice not only to decipher Lin’s message, but to judge his intent and our own perceptions. There will be disbelief, there will be shock waves. And there will be new ways to look at a familiar situation.
In Portland, Lin collaborated with artists including playwright Christopher Chen, Dmae Roberts, Chris Harder, Sara Hennessy, Greg Watanabe, Horatio Law, Megan Wilkerson, Sarah Gahagan, Jennifer Lin, Rodolfo Ortega, Luan Schooler, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Samson Syharath and Shawn Lee to recreate this piece for Portland viewers.
Those who attend the performance-exhibition will be treated to many surprises. It runs through October 29 at Artists Repertory Theatre. Leave your expectations on the coat rack!