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Review: At 'Caged,' a question of who's looking at whom

March 12, 2013|By Margaret Gray
  • R.J. Jones and Megan Kim portray the Caged Man and the Caged Woman in City Garage's world premiere of Charles A. Duncombe's "Caged."
R.J. Jones and Megan Kim portray the Caged Man and the Caged Woman in City… (Paul M. Rubenstein )

Whenever I visit a zoo, I have the uneasy feeling that the animals are actually studying me, collecting data about my habits in the vain hope of understanding my species. I felt vindicated in this eccentricity by the premise of “Caged,” Charles A. Duncombe’s new play premiering at City Garage.

A man (R.J. Jones) and a woman (Megan Kim), both naked, occupy an enclosure furnished, like a gorilla cage, with some exercise equipment and a few toys. Except for the occasional grunting scuffle, they keep to themselves, one in each corner, moving gloomily from perch to perch, as a stream of visitors (all played by seven actors) passes by, projecting assumptions onto them.

“She’s showing affection,” a woman tells her boyfriend. “She’s telling him to stay away,” the boyfriend counters. These unevenly entertaining scenes reinforce the sense, established by Duncombe’s clever set design, that the audience and the caged man and woman are observing the vagaries of human behavior together. 

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Meanwhile, a Keeper (a spot-on Katrina Nelson) and an Interviewer (the sympathetic Leah Harf) engage in a scientific Q&A about the creatures, presenting recognizable human behaviors — yoga or football or war — as “baffling.” “A lifetime of study and we’re really no closer to understanding them than we ever were,” marvels the Keeper.

The setup is so poignantly symbolic, Duncombe’s text so deft and tongue-in-cheek and the direction, by Frédérique Michel, so finely tuned that it takes a while to notice that “Caged” has backed itself into a corner.

Like many dramas in the absurdist tradition, once it establishes its metaphor for the hopelessness of the human condition, it has nowhere to go. The ending scenes struggle to hammer home a profundity that has already come across. And after waiting so long for the caged man and woman to speak, I was disappointed by the vapid abstractions they ultimately delivered.

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"Caged,"City Garage, Building T1, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays. Ends April 21. $25. (310) 453-9939 or www.citygarage.org. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

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