Review by Brittany Crowell
The journey began with an interview. Playwright Mia Chung was given an assignment to interview an Irish American and Italian American actor and write a short script. What these interviews lacked (a specificity about family and a comfort in discussing their mothers) led further to her desire to explore family and relationships between children and their parents, and to pen Catch as Catch Can.
In Chung’s piece, performed at Playwrights Horizons’ Peter J Sharp theater through November 20, a small cast of three tackle six dynamic characters. Each actor plays a child and a parent: a father to the daughter or a son to the mother. While the theatrical doubling of character is core to the play’s meaning, it doesn’t provide any great revelations on the inherited habits, beliefs, traumas, or the breaking of learned behaviors in performance. The piece, unfortunately, lacks any recognizable patterns while also not providing the satisfying breaking away from generational habits. It merely touches on conflicts between the choices of mother and son without deepening or further exploration.
One boon to the production is the cast, made up of Cindy Cheung, Jon Norman Schneider, and Rob Yang. Each performer athletically tackles their dual roles with subtlety and specificity: Cheung’s posture rounds and speed slows as she transitions between Daniela and Lon; Schneider’s tone lowers as he moves from Roberta to Robbie; and Yang’s demeanor darkens as he shifts from Theresa to Tim. However, the embodiment of these slight shifts can’t always keep pace with the storytelling and the nuances of mother to son and father to daughter get lost in the translation.
Race also plays an important role at the top of this story as we watch two East Asian men embody white women of New England who are discussing their disapproval at their sons dating women from East Asia. However, as the play progresses, the racism persists, but only as relates to their son’s dating habits, and it takes a back seat to the familial and mental health issues explored. The conflict in having these roles embodied by these bodies doesn’t lead to any discovery or further discomfort outside of a conflict that remains present yet stagnant throughout the piece.
The design is well executed. Scenically (designed by Matt Saunders), the stage is open to the back kitchen, passing from an exterior through a living room, all of which are utilized well by Daniel Aukin (director) throughout the piece. Costumes (by Enver Chakartash) highlight the pedestrian, looking as if they were taken out of the actors’ closets and contrasting with the other generations of characters that they play. Lighting designer Marika Kent designates space and aids in the transition between scenes, along with sound designer Bray Poor whose multi-tiered sound design of the piece allowed us to see Saunders’ three spaces as a many-leveled playground for the performers.
Only in crafting this review after watching the show with a new guest and trying with them to piece together what we’d been given (catch as catch can, if you will) did I realize that in 2018, I reviewed the piece during its Page 73 production.
In addition to not remembering the piece on second viewing, I’m disappointed to admit that (upon rereading my review) the same issues rung true and that even upon a second viewing with a different interpretation, I found myself confused by the play’s core message and purpose – walking away with more questions than answers, and not in a good way.
CATCH AS CATCH CAN – by Mi Chung; directed by Daniel Aukin
Cindy Cheung, John Normal Schneider, and Rob Yang
Scenic design by Matt Saunders; costume design by Enver Chakartash; lighting design by Marika Kent; sound design by Bray Poor; vocal and text coaching by Gigi Buffington; production stage management by Genevieve Ortiz. Presented by Playwrights Horizons: Adam Greenfield, artistic director; Leslie Marcus, managing director; Carol Fishman, general manager. At the Peter Jay Sharp Theater: 416 W 42nd St floor 4, New York, NY 10036. (212) 564-1235.www.playwrightshorizons.org/shows/plays/catch-catch-can2223/