Review: CAUGHT

by Lynn on April 7, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Theatre Passe Muraille, Backspace Toronto, Ont.

Written by Jordi Mand.
Directed by Sarah Garton Stanley
Production designed by John Thompson
Sound by Debashis Sinha
Fight Director, Richard Lee
Cast: Jakob Ehman
Meegwun Fairbrother
Sabryn Rock

An initially intriguing play about responsibility to the truth and to doing right that gets caught in its own web of tangled stories, complications, and improbabilities.

The Story. James has been caught shoplifting $2,000 worth of goods in a store. Trisha is the Loss Prevention Officer in the store who caught him. She handcuffs him and brings him to an ‘interrogation’ room in the store for questioning. The police have been called. In the meantime James denies that he stole anything. He tells Trisha he just wanted to meet her and taking the stuff was his way of getting her attention. She’s confused by that and irritated at the guy’s smugness and his refusal to cooperate. He won’t let her look in his wallet for information. She asks various questions, all of which James twists and turns around, never actually answering her. He notices things about her. He puts her on the defensive about her actions. He’s toying with her.

Something happens and Trisha over-reacts. A police officer named Dan arrives. He and Trisha know each other. Dan is pre-occupied with personal matters—he has been trying to get a raise for months without success. At this point it’s touch and go regarding the raise. There are more revelations when James starts to toy with Dan as well. Dan’s reaction is just as dramatic as Trisha’s.

The Production. Designer, John Thompson has created a stark, bare interrogation room. The walls are white without any adornments. There is no window. There is a long table with a chair at both ends. There is a door to the rest of the store and a surveillance camera above the door.

Director Sarah Garton Stanley has created a production that is appropriately claustrophobic in that no character can really leave that room once they are in it. I can appreciate that Sarah Garton Stanley’s direction has both Trisha (Sabryn Rock) and Dan (Meegwun Fairbrother) on the defensive. They lean in to question James. They try to crowd him to confess. Trisha is unsettled by James while Dan is just aggressive towards him. At one point in the proceedings, Dan ramps up his aggression towards James and disengages the video camera above the door because he doesn’t want his less than ethical behaviour to be caught on camera. Only after the interrogation does he re-engage the video camera.

He does it with a smile. He is seemingly unthreatening but when he has a moment that is explosive and it’s startling.

Jakob Ehman as James is a chameleon of an actor. He dissolves into his characters and is unrecognizable from play to play. In Caught he is in such calm control as James that he makes one look up the difference between sociopath and psychopath. Both can be appropriate for this character as played by Ehman.

For much of Caught it seems that it’s Trisha who is caught in James’ elaborate web of intrigue and Sabryn Rock plays Trisha as a skittish, frustrated intensely righteous woman who falls into the trap. Dan also gets tangled as well. As Dan, Meegwun Fairbrother is strapping, imposing and definitely not morally sound. He will do anything to catch a law-breaker, including breaking the law it seems. Fairbrother almost convinces us that that kind of behaviour is acceptable. Almost.

But for all the focused claustrophobia of Sarah Garton Stanley’s production, I found it heavy handed. In the first scene Trisha and a handcuffed James are in the interrogation room. Trisha is dumping all the stuff James has shoplifted out of his backpack, to an increasingly blaring soundscape of rumbling noise (Debashis Sinha), I guess to underscore the seriousness.

When there is a scene of heightened drama Stanley underscores it with a light change and a subtle rumbling sound. Such over emphasis is clichéd and heavy-handed. Rather than the directorial flashes I would have hoped that the director could have helped Jordi Mand to write a more cohesive play.

Comment. Playwright, Jordi Mand is a talented writer as is clear in her first play, Between the Sheets, about a school teacher and the parent of one of her students. Mand likes to explore questions of moral responsibility, consequences if that moral obligation and responsibility are breeched; how the law is not fair to all. She explores how some people enjoy an exception to be accountable where others are taken to task when they aren’t accountable.

Caught is a three character play so Mand is challenging herself by writing more challenging play than her first two-hander. I appreciate that. With Caught, Mand is able to dig deeper into her exploration of moral, ethical questions of behaviour to try and find answers. Sometimes asking the question is more important than the answer. But more often than not having a plausible set up is more important in a play in providing a solid base for those questions. and that’s the situation here.

I’m concerned that too many questions are not asked and that weakens the play. James tells Trisha he took all the stuff because he wanted to get her attention and meet her. Yet Trisha doesn’t ask why he wants that. Shouldn’t we know?

James is obviously in trouble with the police, but he has a piece of information that could threaten both Trisha and Dan, yet he never reveals it. The information comes out almost by accident. That’s hard to believe. I can’t be more specific because that would be a spoiler.

Trisha feels that an altercation in the store between a couple suggests that the man is abusing his wife. Dan challenges her on this, saying she is over-reacting. She has done this before. James is involved here too yet no one asks him about possible abuse. Shouldn’t someone have asked?

James accuses Trisha of attacking him and Trisha denies it saying it was an accident. Dan is sceptical. Why has no one noted that it would have been on the video record of the camera in the room?

While Dan has turned off the video camera for a portion of his interrogation no one notes that such a lapse in the video taped record would have been questioned.

I’m concerned that there is less a resolution to the play and more a sudden stopping that seems unfinished.

I’m concerned that with only three characters they each have so many story lines with evolve that it is less a spider web that is catching these characters and more a tangle of unruly storylines.

Caught needs another pass by Jordi Mand to re-think, re-examine the issues and re-write the play so that the loose ends are tied up and the holes in the story are attended to so that the play will seem more organic in its investigation and less contrived.

Presented by Theatre Passe Muraille

Opened: April 5, 2016.
Closes: April 24, 2016.
Cast: 3; 2 men, 1 woman
Running Time: 65 minutes.

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