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.
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.