Lying about truth, art about art, Caught at PlayCo

Caught image (by Carol Rosegg)

Who are these people? They’re Jennifer Lim and Louis Ozawa Changchien, but they’re pretending to be Wang Min and Lin Bo, and who are they? And why are they in a box? (The photo was taken by Carol Rosegg—I know that much)

On a social-media website just now, I saw something that asked whether I understand Snapchat. Because I talk back to ads in my head (Don’t you? How else to fend off their insidious persuasions?), I started formulating a response: “It is not a matter of understanding Snapchat. It is a matter of…” Then I realized that a particular character in Caught would’ve put it just like that. Clearly, Christopher Chen’s comedy-drama, being presented by The Play Company in New York through September 24, is having its own insidious effect on me, days after I saw it.

But what can I say about it? Thinking about this play makes me wary. I have a feeling that, once I’ve written and posted a review, another of its characters, one who remained present but unseen throughout the performance, who calls himself Christopher Chen and who claims to have written the play, will step forth from around a corner (somewhat like the Marshall McLuhan moment in Annie Hall) and claim that I’ve misunderstood his work, that it’s not about what I said but instead about something else, or alternatively he’ll demand to know why I’m talking about his play at all—which, after all, is not mine—and suggest that it’s really just another attempt, and a pretty meager one from what he can see, to advance my career with another piece of writing that takes as my own, at least as a subject, and something of the contents as well, a thing (the play called Caught) that belongs to another. I could claim it’s my job, but he could easily riposte with “Sure, like it’s the pirates’ job to plunder,” although I’m pretty sure he’d say something more clever (more cleverer?) and less direct.

Thinking about this play makes me wonder whether Christopher Chen is really who he says he is. Rather, whether Chen is who this New York Times article says he is. Because one of the points of this play (unless it’s really not a point but merely part of what happens) is that artists sometimes misrepresent themselves and that journalists sometimes go along, all unsuspecting, unless and until someone (for instance, an editor for a weekly magazine, like the one in the play, who has more time for this kind of thing than an editor at a daily is likely to have) starts asking questions and raising doubts. I’m not going to get hysterical about it, because I’m not the kind of person who does such things, but I could get pretty anxious here, because I’m not really sure that I get it, that I know enough about Chen and his devious little play (I mean that in a good way) to comment, and I’m kind of afraid that, whatever I say, the people who are presenting the play may sit at home later and talk about how well, that is, badly, I’ve done my job, performed my role. Although I suppose that, if they do that, they probably won’t do it for long, because they’ll soon go on to discuss juicier stuff like the affairs they’ve had. Actors and directors and other theater types—just like artists—do all have juicy affairs to talk about and argue over, don’t they? Or is that just another image, a notion that’s not really true but that helps keep up the “glamour”?

If I say this play is about the truth and falsity (Can I call it “truthity”? No one says that, do they? Why not, though?)—no, let’s avoid that. If I say this play is about how representation sometimes turns out to be misrepresentation, or that the play’s succession of scenes (which might be compared to nested boxes, but then they might be compared to Transformers too, and I should probably have used one of those little TM marks there, because it’s a trademark, and I don’t want to be charged with appropriating it) shows, among other things, a succession of appropriations, because what seems to be a straightforward talk to the audience in one scene becomes part of the content of, is taken over by, the next scene—if I said that, would I be saying anything worthwhile? Would it give away too much? Would it be better if I just said, “Appearances can be deceiving” and left it at that?

If I say I saw this play on the night of Saturday, August 27, would I be lying? Yes, I would, because I really saw it on Friday, August 26, and yet the main thing, the higher truth, which is that I did see the play, is present either way. Unless, of course, I didn’t see the play at all. But I’m pretty sure you can verify that a person called John Branch did arrange a ticket for the 26th, and that a person claiming to be John Branch did pick up that ticket and use the seat. And he—since I am not he but am in touch with him—would like you to know that he thought the whole thing was pretty great and he hopes everyone involved is having nice juicy affairs even if they don’t ordinarily do such things, and he also hopes they get lots of pay and recognition and future work out of this. More than that, I will not say.

And now for the requisite details. If the playbill can be believed: Caught was written by Christopher Chen; its PlayCo presentation was directed by Lee Sunday Evans and is being performed by Louis Ozawa Changchien, Leslie Fray, Murphy Guyer, and Jennifer Lim in the Summer Shares at La MaMa facility. The playbill they gave me (I don’t mean “they the cast members”) is wrong about the closing date for the run, though the date was probably correct when the playbill was printed; word quickly spread about this show, which I’ll bet had a lot to do with that prestigious and (we all hope) authoritative New York Times article, and ticket sales took off, and the closing date, when last I heard, is September 24. (Yes, I know I already said that, but it’s one of the few true facts in this piece of which I’m reasonably certain, and I want to make sure you notice.) You can find out more (or perhaps not more but different) by clicking this link, which—Trust me on this! Why would I lie? I mean, about this—really does go to the PlayCo website.

[Dialogue, 45 minutes later]

JB: I just realized that, if you make art with Snapchat, it’d be disappearing art (to know why I say that, you have to know something about Snapchat, though you don’t have to really understand Snapchat), and that’s like something in the play, which is imaginary art, which is art that doesn’t physically exist—it’s an idea for art, that is, it’s a kind of art that’s about art. And what is this play but disappearing art, since theater is evanescent, or art about art?

AW: Go on talking, John.*

* Editor’s note: AW is Ann Whitefield, who’s a character in another play, and this is approximately her last line in that play. I think this whole section is pretty extraneous, but I decided to allow it, because it shows that the author just doesn’t want to let go of this play, or else that the play hasn’t let go of him yet.

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