Concerning Strange Devices From the Distant West
by Naomi Iizuka
directed by Les Waters
originally produced at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Berkeley, CA.
February 26,2010 through April 11, 2010
Well before the digital age, the camera selected, filtered and obscured the truth—even as it promised to provide an authentic look at distant lands. Naomi Iizuka explores the intersection of art and authenticity in a haunting new play commissioned by Berkeley Rep: Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West. In this world premiere, wealthy Americans invade Yokohama in the 1880s with a weird new technology. Their cameras capture images of geishas, monks and shrines and send them to the future in a flash—where we continue to seek meaning through lenses of exoticism and xenophobia. Berkeley Rep presented the world premiere of Iizuka’s 36 Views before it played off Broadway. Her work has also been seen at major theatres in Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle. Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West takes its title from the first treatise on photography translated into Japanese. It will be staged by Berkeley Rep’s associate artistic director, Obie Award-winner Les Waters, whose shows have ranked among the 10 best plays of 2007 in Time, 2006 in the New York Times, and 2005 in Time Out New York. Follow an insatiable appetite for intrigue through three centuries in this intricate new show.
From Artistic Director Tony Taccone -
Concerning Strange Devices From the Distant West explores the West’s ongoing fascination with Meiji-era Japan, and how an exotic Japanese identity was fabricated and then trafficked by western photographers to the West. Through a triptych structure, echoing a traditional three-paneled Japanese screen, Naomi Iizuka paints a trio of acts that grapple with the malleable nature of perception. This elegant play transports the audience straight inside of the camera lens, toying with our perceptions through a calculated wash of intertwining exchanges. As the lens zooms between foreground and background, we become aware that the more trained our focus becomes on a single object, the more details fall away, obscuring the truth of a complete image.
Naomi Iizuka is an extraordinary writer. Her plays are full of a surprising blend of the poetic, the erotic and the intellectual. Ever since producing her 2001 world premiere play, 36 Views, we have looked forward to bringing Naomi back to Berkeley Rep. When the opportunity arose in 2006 to offer her a commission, we jumped at the chance. As an artistic team, Naomi Iizuka and Les Waters are well matched to work together on this project. As a director, Les has extensive experience with new work, experimental forms and collaboration. Naomi Iizuka is a dedicated and talented playwright who is deeply invested in the development process. Together, we anticipate they will bring to life this haunting and intriguing new play.
Through our commissioning and new play development program Berkeley Rep is seeking to increase resources and opportunities to support and strengthen the artistic work of America’s most talented theatre artists, and create opportunities for artists to take risks in developing groundbreaking new work on a large scale. Our commitment to new play development comes from an impulse to create an environment where emerging and diverse voices of the American theatre landscape can be heard. We believe that supporting new work and the artists of our day is one of the most important contributions Berkeley Repertory Theatre can make to the legacy of American theatre. We are already beginning to see the impact Berkeley Rep’s play development activities are having upon artists and our audiences. We have made strong efforts to cultivate understanding about the challenging process of creating new work amongst our audience and critics. Through the Theatre’s strong reputation and longstanding commitment to the play development process, many of our recent world premiere productions such as Passing Strange, Eurydice, Taking Over and Bridge and Tunnel have gone on to successful runs in New York and beyond.
It is our greatest ambition that we will produce as many of the plays we commission as possible and help find homes for all new projects at theatres across the nation, making a positive contribution to the legacy of American Theatre.
Director: Les Waters