David L. Ray puts a very real face on this country’s gay marriage debate in Caught, the Georgia-born playwright’s absorbing dramedy now getting its World Premiere at the Zephyr Theatre. Incisively directed by Nick DeGruccio and featuring a couldn’t-be-better cast and one of the best design teams in town, Caught is a terrific holiday gift for theatergoers in search of something other than yet another Christmas Carol.
It’s July of 2008, a month after California began granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and 30something boyfriends Kenneth and Troy (Corey Brill and Will Beinbrink) are planning their wedding—to be officiated by their sassy, freshly Internet-ordained best friend Splenda (Micah McCain). Things could hardly be going more smoothly in the couple’s L.A. home when a voice mail from Kenny’s sister Darlene (Deborah Puette) announces that she’s “fixin’” to come for a visit, her first ever to the home of the younger brother who packed his bags and left small-town Georgia for good at the age of eighteen. Troy isn’t all that crazy about Darlene’s visit (she doesn’t even know he exists), but for Kenny, there’s only one choice, since “Mom always said you drop everything for family.” Hardly the easiest thing for Troy to understand, his own coming out years before having kept him permanently estranged from his own kith and kin, though he does admit to thinking it “so cute that you’re still trying to get your family’s approval.”
What worries Troy in particular is the timing of Darlene’s visit, too much of a coincidence given the amount of attention being paid California’s legalization of gay marriage, and even more so since Darlene’s husband J.P (Richard Jenik) is the town preacher. A bit of Googling reveals that Darlene and J.P.’s church has started a new ministry acronymed PPM, short for “Pray To Protect Marriage,” making it even more likely that Darlene may be a woman on a mission.
Still, there’s really nothing Kenny and Troy can do with Sis set to arrive anytime now, which she does later that afternoon accompanied by her teenage daughter Krystal (Amanda Kaschak), recent second runner-up in the Miss Watermelon Pageant. When Darlene, worn out from her very first plane trip, leaves the room, Krystal virtually explodes with glee at the realization that “I have a gay uncle! Momma always said your Uncle Kenny was kind of different. I kinda guessed.”
As for big sister’s reason for the trip west, it turns out that Darlene knows nothing about Kenny and Troy’s relationship, and though this comes as a relief to her brother, it also means that he has no choice but to pretend that he and Troy are just roommates. Fortunately, Darlene has little trouble accepting this, given housing prices in Kenny and Troy’s neighborhood. “No wonder y’all need roommates,” she remarks in all sincerity.
“You need to tell her,” Troy insists, though this is more easily said than done when the mere mention of gay marriage prompts Darlene to exclaim, “Oh sweet Jesus! They are lost, risking eternal damnation.”
If only Darlene could see things through the eyes of eighteen-year-old Krystal, who not only refuses to believe that gays are going to hell but has herself suffered the loss of a gay best friend, an event which only prompted her mother’s judgment that “he committed suicide so he’s in hell.”
Meanwhile, back in Georgia, J.P. continues his anti-gay sermonizing—and the extracurricular hanky-panky that is the real reason for Darlene’s sudden California visit.
If Caught starts out somewhat like a cross between Lifetime and LOGO, it soon develops a very real identity of its own. Though a plea for same sex marriage is at its core, it is also the story of one woman’s journey from condemnation to acceptance, of Darlene’s realization that Biblical “Thou Shalt Nots” are one thing, and unconditional love is quite another.
This journey is made all the more powerful by the presence of the luminescent Puette, doing her most memorable work since her performance as Adelaide in Tryst won her StageSceneLA and LA Weekly Awards as Best Actress as well as Ovation, LADCC, and Garland Award nominations several years back. Watching Darlene’s transformative trek from Bible-spouter to independent thinker is pure joy in Puette’s gifted hands.
Matching her every step of the way is the break-out performance of recent USC grad Kaschak, adding her name to the list of the many Trojan talents whose work has been celebrated on this site. Kaschak’s Krystal is feisty, sharp as a tack, adorable as all get-out, and as much a master of comic timing as she is adept at Krystal’s more dramatic, touching moments.
Brill does deeply affecting work as a man on a rocky journey towards self-acceptance. He has real chemistry with his equally fine costar Beinbrink, and shines particularly in several heart-to-hearts with Puette’s Darlene. As the character (in both senses of the word) who used to be called Sugar till he lost forty pounds and a no-good boyfriend, the splendid McCain brings sass, smarts, and warmth to Splenda in Equal measure. Jenik makes J.P. far more than your everyday hypocritical Bible-thumper, showing us a deeply conflicted man of God unable to resist his baser urges yet all too willing to rationalize them.
Playwright Ray avoids the temptation to divide his characters into Good Guys and Bad Guys. Each has his or her own flaws and foibles, though young Krystal does seem to have her act particularly together for one so young. Caught is an especially well-constructed play, moving forward with nary a dull moment, interspersing brief scenes of J.P at the pulpit with longer ones in California, allowing J.P.’s connection with the other characters to dawn slowly on the audience, and ending Act One with a powerful, come-back-for-more bang.
Design elements are, in a word, superb. Scenic designer Adam Flemming has created an L.A. Southwest/Spanish home and patio that most in the audience would likely take delight in moving into. Lisa D. Katz lights it gorgeously, with particular credit due her distinctive indoor-outdoor lighting plots. Elizabeth Rhodes’ sound design incorporates a well-chosen selection of songs to link scenes. Katherine Hampton Nolan’s costumes are just-right choices for each character, particularly Puette’s ensembles, which reveal her flowering as a person over the course of a very eventful week. Darlene Miyakawa is production stage manager and Miguel Flores is stage manager.
In Caught, David L. Ray has created a play that ought to touch the hearts and minds of audience members of every shade of the political and social spectrum. Far more than simply a “gay play,” Caught is simply fine theater. Fine theater indeed.
The Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles.
December 3, 2010
Photos: Michael Lamont
There’s something a bit surreal (and at the same time quite thrilling) about going back to see a play when performed the second time around by a completely different cast, whether alternate, replacement, or understudy. I’m not talking here about a brand new production, but rather one in which everything is the same except for the actors bringing the playwright’s creations to life.
The Antaeus Company double-casts all its shows, and I was fortunate to review two very different and equally brilliant ensembles performing in its recent revival of Lillian Hellman’s The Autumn Garden. Theatre @ Boston Court customarily offers special off-night understudy performances which give the show’s covers (i.e. understudies) their own moment in the spotlight.
Similarly, Buttermilk Productions has scheduled several understudy performances of David L. Ray’s smash hit Caught, one of which this reviewer had the great good fortune to catch this afternoon. As performed by a sextet of superb covers, Ray’s justly lauded dramedy maintains every iota of its laughter, its tears, and its power to move.
Doing revelatory work as Darlene, Sara J. Stuckey digs deep and dazzles. As Crystal, Savannah Southern-Smith proves every bit as marvelous whether center stage or simply reacting to other characters. Both Derek Daniels Meeker and Marc Cirillo are wonderful (and absolutely believable) in their roles as fiancés Troy and Kenny. A splendid Andre Martin adds subtle shadings to the very Technicolor Splenda. Michael Craig Stevens completes the cast terrifically as the smarmy J.P.
In the event that any of Caught’s main cast might have to miss a future performance, audience members can rest assured that they will in no way be shortchanged, and as for the many who’ve seen and loved Caught, any future understudy performances should provide good reason to make a return visit.
January 15, 2011
February 26, 2011
Since its December World Premiere, David L. Ray’s Caught has become that rarity in Los Angeles theater—a show that enters L.A.’s stage scene very much under the radar yet manages despite odds to become a breakout hit. Written by a relative unknown and making its guest production debut in the pre-Christmas theatrical doldrums, Caught was hardly a sure bet for smash hit status when it opened three months ago. True, its director Nick DeGruccio has won more prizes than any just about anyone else in L.A. theater, and yes, its star Deborah Puette did win an LA Weekly Award for her unforgettable work in Tryst, but neither’s name is likely to have marquee value outside L.A. theater cognoscenti. Even less promising was the fact that of the three media reps present on Opening Night, only StageSceneLA’s reviewer recognized what a truly wonderful play and production Caught is.
Fortunately, in the weeks following that December opening, Caught has not only inspired one rave review after another (and a GO from the LA Weekly), but has has—even more importantly—proven that nothing can beat word-of-mouth for putting bodies into seats.
Playwright David L. Ray’s comedic-dramatic-heartwarming-mindchanging gem of a play has resonated with audiences gay and straight alike, prompting many a return visit, often with family members in tow. Caught-lovers keep coming back to re-experience a Southern Baptist wife-mother-sister’s journey from fear and condemnation to understanding and acceptance, and to share it with those who might find themselves where Darlene starts out the day she arrives for an unexpected visit to her baby brother Kenny’s Beverly Hills-adjacent home.
This reviewer has seen the production four times, making it my favorite new play of the past year. Whether performed by its sensational principal cast (Corey Brill, Will Beinbrink, Richard Jenik, Amanda Kashak, Micah McCain, and Puette) or its superb understudies (Marc Cirillo, Andre Martin, Derek Daniels Meeker, Savannah Southern-Smith, and Sara J. Stuckey), Caught has proven itself an enthralling, enriching, inspiring piece of theater—and it’s Southern Fried Funny to boot.
The weeks and now months since Opening Night on December 3 and yesterday’s February 26 performance have only strengthened the work of its main cast. Beinbrink’s Troy is even menschier, Jenik’s J.P even smarmier (and I mean that in the most complimentary of ways), Kaschak’s Krystal even more enchanting, McCain’s Splenda even more fabulous, and Puette’s Darlene more luminescent. Puette in particular gives one of the year’s most memorable performances (as does understudy Stuckey, who’ll be playing the role on certain March/April dates). Brill’s recent departure for Broadway has brought MacKenzie Astin onboard as Kenny and he is positively marvelous in the role, touching in his vulnerability, and absolutely believable in his onstage relationships, particularly in the high-chemistry one he shares with the terrific Beinbrink.
Caught is not about Prop 8. It is not even about Gay Marriage, even though it centers on a gay wedding. It is about love and understanding and the true meaning of family. Profoundly respectful of people of faith yet not afraid to cast stones at those who pervert Christ’s message of love, Caught is one of the few shows I could see on a monthly, if not weekly basis, and never stop enjoying.
All of which prompts the following question: If you haven’t yet gotten Caught, what the blazes are you waiting for?
Photos: Michael Lamont
May 1, 2011 Update:
A fifth visit to what is now the longest-running play in Los Angeles proved every bit as satisfying as visits one through four. Caught is the play to beat for Production and Play Of The Year. Performances continue to be superlative, with Troy’s and Kenneth’s onstage chemistry even more palpable, enhanced by MacKenzie Astin’s two plus months onboard. Tonight’s performance featured newly arrived Kenneth-Splenda understudy Matt Pittenger covering the inimitable Micah McCain’s role as Splenda, and doing so quite splendidly, his more toned-down but utterly charming version of the Internet-ordained marriage officiator nailing every Splenda laugh.
June 19, 2011
Los Angeles’ longest running play enters the last six weekends of its final extension (yes, the play really must close on August 7) even more powerful than ever. Jason Dechert has joined the cast as Kenny, and anyone wanting a lesson in the basics of brilliance in acting (spontaneity, depth, and the ability to listen for starters) could do no better than to watch Dechert’s superb, absolutely in-the-moment work as a young man caught between two loves, caught between two families, caught between two worlds. There’s an added intensity to Caught these days amidst the laughter and the tears.
Deborah Puette continues to dazzle in her comedic-dramatic tour de force work as Darlene, a career-altering role for the much lauded actress. Will Beinbrink remains the rock in Kenny’s and Troy’s relationship, and having had three fiancés now has added new layers to Beinbrink’s already terrific work. Amanda Kaschak remains absolute perfection as Krystal, an exquisite young comedienne/dramatic actress with a world of roles ahead of her. Richard Jenik’s beautifully played J.P. continues to reveal more sides to this Georgia preacher than we might expect from such a fundamentalist Christian. Finally, the one-and-only Micah McCain has gone from fabulous to out-and-out sensational as Splenda, each week bringing new shadings to the outrageous Internet-ordained man of the (rainbow-colored) cloth.
Playwright David L. Ray has every reason to celebrate this professional and artistic triumph, one which should prove only the beginning for this extraordinary piece of theater. Kudos to director Nick DeGruccio, producer Jason Loh, and the entire Caught team as it moves into the final weeks of an engagement I wish would run forever.
My favorite play of 2010-11 has become Los Angeles theater’s Production Of The Year.
August 7, 2011 Update:
Caught has closed, over eight months after its December opening. Having been there for that Opening Night, and six additional times in the months to follow, I couldn’t help feeling a mixture of sadness at my eighth and final visit, but joy for the extraordinary experience it has represented for this theatergoer.
Performances by the four remaining original cast members (Deborah Puette, Will Beinbrink, Amanda Kaschak, and Micah McCain) had gained exquisite new layers over the intervening months. Jason Dechert continued to astonish with his performance as Kenny, and newcomer Ian Vogt’s take on J.P. was distinctive enough to add new zip to Caught’s finial weeks, and every bit as memorable as had been that of the role’s originator.
Great things lie in store for Caught. David L. Ray has written a play that people will be talking about, and loving, for years to come.