by Meg Currell

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday October 10, 2017

Greg Watanabe
Greg Watanabe  

Sometimes, art is a challenge to the audience; face this uncomfortable truth, or unravel this mystery, or decipher this hidden meaning. Art's subjectiveness is part of the joy of being an audience member, the comparison of viewpoints a source of entertainment, as we saw with the "Blue or Gold" dress a couple of years ago. What exactly do you see?

Artists Repertory Theatre has made a study of pulling the rug out from under its audience this year, first upending expectations in its brilliant, subversive opening show "An Octoroon." With "Caught," the theatre goes even further, challenging the audience to contemplate the underpinnings of their own perceptions.

From the moment you walk in the building, you enter an unexpected space; a gallery full of highly detailed works of art, each with layers of meaning delivered exactingly on attendant placards. There is a strong theme of consumerism among the work, a juxtaposition of Western and Eastern cultures, and a contemplation of the loss of connection and history. The small lobby gallery leads into the performance space, where more sprawling works lead you on a single path to the audience seats.

Conceptual artist Lin Bo is introduced, a Chinese dissident whose work comprises the gallery show. Lin Bo proceeds to tell his story about being imprisoned in China for his rebellious artwork, stating that his work is meant to be an "appropriation of subversion," an intentional destruction of perception. With earnest charisma, Lin Bo delivers his artistic philosophy; "The truth does not lie in the specific facts, but only in the feeling. Only I can be the arbiter of my own truth."

"Caught" raises questions about narrative, story, authenticity, and the necessity of truth in artistic expression. Is the idea itself sufficient to constitute a piece of art? Or does the transaction between artist and audience require a middle man, a context of trust? Is there a means of "pure transmission and pure reception" between audience and artist?

These heady ideas are pursued to their extreme ends in this combination performance art and gallery opening. The audience unwittingly plays an active role in this dynamic, shifting from mere observation of the action playing out before them to active self-examination of the role and responsibility of art consumers. Like watching Fred Astaire dance on the ceiling, or seeing the dimensions of a street undulate in the movie "Inception," the show "Caught" affects a profound and lingering displacement of gravity.

Collaborating on this engaging, challenging and peculiarly funny show is director Shawn Lee, who harnesses the disparate lightning bolts of visual, aural, verbal and dramatic sensory input to vivid -- sometimes shocking -- effect. Working with him are cast members Sara Hennessy, Chris Harder, Greg Watanabe and Dmae Roberts.

Also notable for their contribution to this feat of multimedia incitement are Megan Wilkerson, Luan Schooler, and Rodolfo Ortega. The group creates a seamless presentation of thought, idea, interactive play, and visual and intellectual engagement that defies easy description, and begs to be experienced.

But be prepared to confront deeply held beliefs as you step through this kaleidoscopic looking glass; like the "unexamined life is not worth living," an untested faith that "beauty is truth, truth beauty" may not withstand the maelstrom of this show.

"Caught" runs through October 29 at Artists Repertory Theatre, 1515 SW Morrison St., Portland, OR 97205. For tickets and information, call 503-241-1278 or visit

Meg Currell is a freelance author based in Portland, where she moved for the coffee and mountain views. With a background in literature and music, she explores dance, concerts and DIY with equal enthusiasm. She is currently at work on a collection of short stories.