Caged: Theater Review

Caged Theater Review - P 2013
Paul M. Rubenstein

Caged Theater Review - P 2013

Suggestive inquiry into human behavior, primarily between the sexes, intrigues with its coherent vision.

Two nude actors explore emotion and entrapment at Santa Monica's City Garage.

Males and females commonly misunderstand one another by interpreting the motives of the other in terms of their own perceptions, certain their view is rational and true because it follows from their assumptions. Science in its own way strives for objectivity, although it, too, is circumscribed by incomplete data and unconscious bias. This new play by City Garage co-founder Charles A. Duncombe in a delicately intricate production explores the kaleidoscopic variations of the push-pull of relationships, remarkably similar whether “primitive” or “civilized.”

It often seems that people who choose to live in gated communities may believe that they are keeping everyone else out when in fact they are confining themselves within. Similarly, the world of Caged presents an inside-out conceit of people gawking at creatures imprisoned in a zoo-like environment who are actually themselves surrounded by the bars of the cages, whilst the naked human specimens (Megan Kim and RJ Jones) wander warily around them in the space outside the bars. Elevated on either far side of the stage sit a scientific researcher (Katrina Nelson) and an interviewer (Leah Harf). Their images appear simultaneously on video monitors above the other, discussing the strange and only partially comprehensible behavior of these wild beasts in captivity.

This effect of multiple vantages of observation and reaction, projection and analysis creates a multidimensional examination of the mating habits of Homo sapiens as both animal and human, “free” and “subjugated,” instinctive and rational. Duncombe’s ultimate point is that while all opinions and emotions expressed have a valid basis from some realistic perspective, the irony flows from the incomplete understanding we have of the limitations of every point of view. We believe most intently that which we project on what we see. Caged would be satire if only it weren’t so inescapably sad.

Duncombe’s observations are often routine and relatively obvious, which allows them to feel accessibly true if not profound. The richness of this show derives not from the text as touchstone but rather the elaboration of the metaphors through evocative design, lighting and orchestrated movement. Director Frederique Michel luxuriantly masters this congenial new space, wrangling the different levels of action subtly with an insinuating tactile sense. The lighting withholds as much as it illuminates, and quick passing character sketches of the visitors who encounter the human animals, while generically conventional, are most gratifying for their rhythmic sense of play with the piece’s ideas. While those ideas can be thin, they are fecund, and Duncombe and Michel spin so many layers with all those wisps of insight that the textured whole becomes piquantly allusive, even haunting.

Kim and Jones spend the duration nude, suggesting an earlier embodiment of natural human animals now entrapped by a civilization of which they appear to know nothing (a mistaken assumption, as Duncombe reveals). Inappropriate tattoos aside, they make their symbolic creatures concretely human as they uneasily prowl, play and court. Nelson once again exerts a magnetic intensity despite her buttoned-down role, and it is one of the continuing pleasures of City Garage, as with many established local companies, to see the progressive development of individual actors over many roles over time: here, for one example, the invariably interesting Mariko Oka makes original, distinctive creations of five small parts.

Venue: City Garage, Santa Monica (through March 25)|
Cast: Megan Kim, RJ Jones, Katrina Nelson, Leah Harf, Mariko Oka, Heather Pasternak, Kristina Drager, Justin Davanzo, Nathan Dana Aldrich, David E. Frank, Erol Dolen
Director: Frederique Michel
Writer, Producer, Production Design, Set & Lighting: Charles A. Duncombe
Sound Design: Paul Rubenstein
Costume Designer: Josephine Poinsot