Think back. Way back to a time that now seems almost incomprehensible— nearly the last millennium.
Can you recall when you didn’t have a camera at your fingertips, seemingly at all times, handily embedded in your cell phone?
Remember when you couldn’t—with just a couple of taps—snap a picture and immediately circulate it to the world for perusal?
And do you also remember when you couldn’t—with just a click or two more—alter and manipulate that same photo just prior to broadcasting it worldwide, creating an image exactly as you’d like it to be seen?
Seems like a lifetime ago that this wasn’t the norm. It’s a brave new world now of 24/7 voyeurism. And it’s not only image sharing, but also image crafting.
Can we trust that anything we see is real? Are things ever truly as they appear?
These questions—and oh, so many more—are deliciously teased out in Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West, Naomi Iizuka’s sexy puzzle-of-a-play that we are thrilled to introduce to Chicago in only its second production. It had its world premiere in 2010 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, where our literary manager Ben Thiem saw it.
Born in Japan, Naomi spent much of her life traveling the world prior to putting down roots in her current home of California. Her exposure to different lands and cultures lies at the heart of much of her body of work as a playwright. She often examines the relationship between America and the Far East, be it Vietnam, Cambodia, or, in the case of Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West, Japan.
Crafted as a triptych, this play traverses Yokohama, Tokyo and the United States, transporting you from present day back to the 1880s when a strange new device—the camera —opened up worlds of discovery and intrigue for Americans curious about the exotic Far East.
Naomi’s writing has a mystery, intrigue, yearning and sensuality that is both beguiling and entrancing.
Naomi’s writing has a mystery, intrigue, yearning and sensuality that is both beguiling and entrancing. And her bold theatricality will keep you guessing, piecing things together and speculating about what is real, what is imagined and what is fabricated.
Her exploration of the unknown was quite alluring to TimeLine’s Company Members when we read this play. We too are continually trying to stretch beyond what we’ve known and tackled before, always trying to take you with us to new places.
For this journey we’re delighted to welcome director Lisa Portes, one of Naomi’s closest collaborators, to TimeLine for the first time. Friends since graduate school, Naomi and Lisa have worked together on numerous projects, and their partnership has been seen on stages ranging from the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis to the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, and beyond. Now they open another thrilling new chapter in TimeLine’s intimate space, bringing you up close to the play’s language, imagery and sensuality.
The triptych begins in 1884 with Americans on a quest abroad in Yokohama, seeking insight into an exotic other-world. Just as they were curious to learn about that distant culture, we explore history with a similar desire for understanding. How did people dress? What were their lifestyles, their politics, their romances?
Yet this search for clarity often is clouded by the lens through which we peer. Whether we’re looking into history or merely to another part of the globe, our perspective is shaped by what is presented for us—stories, photographs and tableaux that have been chosen, shared and passed on, carefully crafted to depict a seemingly accurate snapshot of a time and place.
But do we know better now, armed with our own crafty new strange devices built into app-filled smartphones? Is there really such a thing as a pure snapshot of a moment in time? Or is the world of manipulation and selective sharing the new norm—one that we all are lured into playing?
We’re eager to tackle these and other timely questions in discussion with you during the run of Concerning Strange Devices. We also invite you to join in the photographic odyssey that Naomi ignites. While taking photos is prohibited during the performance and inside the theater, more mysteries and images await you in the lobby, and we hope you’ll peruse, participate and maybe even tinker with photography of your own.
We also hope you’ll join in a larger conversation about imagery and
the play on Twitter (you can follow TimeLine at @TimeLineTheatre or me at @pj_powers), in our photostream on Flickr and here on our Behind the ‘Line blog.
Check our website for up-to-date information about ways to interact with us and each other about Concerning Strange Devices!
We invite you along on this exciting venture. Here’s to an alluring and illuminating trip!