Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West

Chicago Premiere

Jan 15, 2013 - Apr 14, 2013

This sexy, multi-faceted puzzle of a play travels from East to West and across time, exploring provocative themes in both epic scope and human scale. In the 1880s, a Victorian woman visiting Japan is fascinated by a new invention — the camera — that allows people to own images of distant lands they never dreamed they would be able to see. In modern-day Tokyo, a collector navigates shifting relationships in search of physical memories of the past. Along the way we gaze as if through a lens at the mysterious intersection of art and authenticity, where very little is what it appears to be.


Production Team

* Member of Actors Equity Association

# Member of United Scenic Artists

~ Member of Stage Directors and Choreographers Society

+ TimeLine Company Member

^ TimeLine Associate Artist

§ TimeLine Playwrights Collective


  • Chicago Tribune

    January 25, 2013

    3 STARS. “This is really a smart, intense piece of writing … [it] has moments of rich, and clearly personal, revelation, skewering mercilessly the collisions of racial identity and sexual desire. … One of the great assets of Portes’ production — aside from some astounding video work from Mike Tutaj on Brian Sidney Bembridge’s set, that creates a cool series of holographic effects — is that this director, who well knows her way around Iizuka’s work, captures the high stakes of all these interactions.”

    —Chris Jones

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  • Chicago Sun-Times

    January 25, 2013

    HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. “With an impressive sleight-of-hand-and-mind, artful minimalism and a visual beauty fully worthy of its many subjects, the contents of Naomi Iizuka’s ‘Concerning Strange Devices From the Distant West’ somehow coalesce into an ever-shifting yet magically cohesive whole in TimeLine Theatre’s newest production.”

    —Hedy Weiss

  • The Fourth Walsh

    January 26, 2013

    HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. “Not surprising in a show about cameras, the visual elements are eye popping. Concerning is definitely a designer showcase. Brian Sidney Bembridge (scenic) creatively mixes old and new Japan. On one end of the stage, the past is represented with multiple round, paper lanterns. Their illumination is magical. On the flip side of the stage, the present is modeled like a large shattered lens. Mike Tutaj projects fascinating imagery on the odd-shaped shards. Bembridge has made that side of the set two-dimensional. So at times, it’s not quite apparent if we are seeing the real actor or a film or a still of that actor. The illusion is unsettling … The complete aesthetic is extraordinary.”

    —Katy Walsh

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  • Stage and Cinema

    January 25, 2013

    RECOMMENDED. “A shimmering and intricate work … All actors delivered adroit performances in a stark and enchanting setting. … Himitsu-Bako were Japanese puzzle boxes that required anywhere from five to five-hundred specific manipulations to open. Devices is similarly filled with precise observations and allusions, but like any admirable work, it unfolds to reveal more questions than answers.”

    —Erika Mikkalo

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  • Chicagoland Theater Reviews

    January 25, 2013

    2 1/2 STARS. “It’s sexier and more exotic play than the typical TimeLine dramatic fare, but it maintains the theater’s credentials for solid acting and resourceful staging. How it will go down with the theater’s patrons will depend on their tolerance for ambiguity … For some audiences, the play will be stimulating intellectually and enticing in its many small mysteries. Others will find it difficult to follow and irritating in its elusiveness. Everyone should admire the production’s visual creativity.”

    —Dan Zeff

  • Chicago Theater Beat

    January 25, 2013

    3 1/2 STARS. “Not every stage moment complements a corollary elsewhere in this puzzle play. Some seem simply strange for strangeness’ sake. But then photographs conceal as much as they reveal. It’s up to the viewer to tease them into meaning. Likewise, TimeLine Theatre Company’s engrossing drama and five supple players deliver impressionistic variations on the myriad facets of recollections and recovery. But take a picture—it’ll last longer.”

    —Lawrnece Bommer

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  • Around the Town Chicago

    January 25, 2013

    3 STARS. “The tech for this production is flawless … ‘Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West,’ written by Naomi Iizuka, is a 90 minute history lesson/puzzle that takes us across time and space, exploring the culture of the people of Japan (back in the late 1800′s) and the modern Japan. The subject of the play is multi-faceted in that we learn about photography (once a photo is taken, time stands still for the subject matter and the observer of same), fidelity (or perhaps, infidelity), humanistic qualities, sexual desires and dreams and hopes of the people in this particular story.”

    —Alan Bresloff

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  • NewCity

    January 29, 2013

    “The most appealing portions of Iizuka’s Japan-set play address the camera’s allure using colloquial poetry and intellect, navigating between Victorian-era Yokohama and modern-day Tokyo with a Stoppardian temporal attachment. … There are images that chill: a stoic Japanese man almost wholly covered in tattoos, fanciful hanging lanterns, and gaseous projections inside of a large origami-looking set piece that seem tactile and real. And the design collaborates tightly into a sleek East-meets-West amoeba.”

    —Johnny Oleksinski

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  • Windy City Times

    January 30, 2013

    “These are a lot of metaphysical dimensions to travel in only 90 minutes, but Timeline production spares no effort in guiding us on our tour. Lisa Portes’ direction, assisted by an all-star technical team … keep our attention riveted on the dynamics of the five actors playing eleven widely-diverse roles in the intimate basement space. … Lazy playgoers distracted by the sexual subtexts and Michael Tutaj’s dazzling projections may leave with brains unexercised, but they will never look at Instagram in quite the same way again.”

    —Mary Shen Barnidge

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