February 15, 2013—April 21, 2013
Directed by Frédérique Michel
Cast: Nathan Dana Aldrich, Justin Davanzo, Erol Dolen, Kristina Drager, David E. Frank, Leah Harf, R.J. Jones, Megan Kim, Katrina Nelson, Mariko Oka, Heather Pasternak
Two naked specimens in a cage. Visitors come and go, fascinated by them, arguing and wondering about these creatures.
Fourth Sunday Q&A
After the Sunday, March 10 matinee, please join us for an informal discussion with the cast and creators of Caged.
Nudity. Adult Themes.
This project is supported, in part, by the Los Angeles County Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission and the Wells Fargo Foundation.
Charles A. Duncombe’s new play Caged at Santa Monica’s City Garage is a rumination on the oddities of our species via the exhibition of two naked souls in a museum cage. It’s also this week’s Pick of the Week.
Not long ago, people regarded as exotic or subhuman were tossed into cages for the viewing pleasure of the American public. Such was the dreadful fate of Congo pygmy Ota Benga, who was displayed with monkeys at the Bronx Zoo in 1906. In Charles Duncombe’s world-premiere drama, Caged, Megan Kim and R.J. Jones are naked, snatched-from-the-jungle “noble savages,” who, confined in a cage stocked with toys, convincingly channel primitive angst, lethargically striding about, communicating and reacting with grunts and violent upsurges and hitting each other playfully. Extended commentary about the exhibit is provided by a keeper (Katrina Nelson) and an interviewer (Leah Harf), whose theories and statements of facts are a bladed mix of the outrageously comical and idiotic. But it’s the cavalcade of spectators and their assorted hang-ups that provide the wallop of humor and irony here: a boy with his parents wanting to see tricks; a man meeting another man for a blow job; several couples in distress, mirroring the plight of the captives; a lonely woman seeking affection; an elderly woman with a huge ax to grind. The contrasts and the heavy-handed subtext are striking — and unsettling. Though not overly dramatic, Duncombe’s smartly written script is delightfully provocative and insightful. Performances are sharply calibrated under Frederique Michel’s direction. (Lovell Estell III)
‘Caged’ Reveals Much About the World We Live In
Critic’s Score: B+: The study of a species is fascinating: finding two prime specimens, observing habits and rituals, noting behavioral changes in captivity, determining the creatures’ biological needs and motivations, and taking stabs at understanding their psychological motivations and emotions. Look! They’re just like us! Charles A. Duncombe’s “Caged” is itself a fascinating study, full of sharp, funny, and touching observations about the human species, in all its variations. It’s a smart outing that’s wonderfully presented but in some respects feels more like a theatrical exercise—although a pretty gratifying one—than a compelling dramatic exploration.
We find ourselves in a zoolike institution where visitors enter and gaze at two naked, caged creatures that look remarkably human (Megan Kim and RJ Jones). On Duncombe’s simple but effective set, the audience is on the same side of the bars as the male and female on display. Naturally. We learn from the Keeper (Katrina Nelson) during a documentary-style interview (conducted by Leah Harf) that this is a particularly psychologically complex species, with disturbing behavior patterns that make its members unlike other animals; in the wild, they fall into elaborate hierarchies and actually prey on one another, exhibiting fierce cruelty and extreme violence. Indeed.
The Keeper’s detached commentary is often brilliant and hilarious. Duncombe nails his targets, whether zeroing in on male versus female bonding activities, the difference between the sexes when presented with mirrors and their own reflections, or the inexplicable attraction to religion. Director Frédérique Michel handles the material beautifully, placing Nelson and Harf on opposite sides of the playing area; we see them above one another on video screens, which adds to Nelson and Harf’s suitably distanced delivery.
But what’s even more interesting is watching and listening to the visitors, who are outside of the cage yet surely see projections of themselves within it. They come and go, the dialogue sparkles, and Michel moves the action along seamlessly between interview segments as we observe illicit lovers (Heather Pasternak and Nathan Dana Aldrich), lonely strangers (Kristina Drager and Justin Davanzo), stupid guys (David E. Frank and Erol Dolen), an unhappy older woman (Mariko Oka), and more. All seven actors playing the visitors inhabit multiple roles with ease.
Stylish design details, including Josephine Poinsot’s crisp costumes, work nicely. Duncombe’s lighting showcases the nuanced performances of Kim and Jones superbly.
As “Caged” progresses, we’re pleasantly surprised by many of the conversations and clever interactions, which reveal so much about the world we live in and the people with whom we share it. But what we don’t quite get is that world significantly shaken up or threatened. It’s all pretty safe, even when the animals prove that they are dangerous, and the play’s reach expands in its final moments. (Jennie Webb)
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. (Myron Meisel)