Monday December 11th 2017

“Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West”

ConcerningStrangeDevices_1066Anyone familiar with Timeline Theatre Company, one of Chicago’s finest ensembles, knows that the productions they do  is based on their “Mission” to present stories inspired by history that connect with today’s social and political issues. Their current production, making its Midwest Premiere, “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.

For this production, Timeline has restructures their stage area so that the audience sits on two sides, with the other two sides being used as entrances and exits along with some wonderful video projections( the always perfect Mike Tutaj) and scenes viewed as photos ( but live) behind a scrim where we can see the action. Lisa Portes has directed this 90 minute story made with many parts of the puzzle where we the audience get to watch as she and Iizuka make the pieces fit.Brian Sidney Bembridge created the set and some very creative lighting effects. Janice Pytel the very period costumes for both eras, sound and original ( enchanting) music by Mikhail Fiksel, and props by Julia Eberhardt. The tech for this production is flawless. It is probably the script itself that holds me back from “highly recommending this one as I was able to view the other side of the stage area and saw several “drifters” and “sleepers” which is not a good sign  for holding an audience’s attention.

The actors on the other hand were solid- The Victorian woman ( a charming Rebecca Spence) goes with her husband on a business trip to Japan. She is fascinated by the new Camera,  that allows people to hold and save images for their own pleasure, whenever they desire and a famed photographer/artists Adolfo Farsari ( deftly played by Michael McKeogh) who is a real person of history. Her husband, in order to busy his wife has her go for a portrait, allowing him time to work and to visit his daughter from another visit.The Husband is played by local favorite character actor Craig Spidle ( who later plays this woman’s grand nephew).  McKeogh plays another important role, that of  a photographer, in the 1800’s who saw this new camera as a way of  making money and then later as an art dealer in the 1900’s who buys and sells as well as uses every means to get what he wants. These are very different roles, yet, each has  some very similar ideas about using others for personal gains, including blackmail with the newest of mini cameras that allow photos of things not to be photographed to be used as tools against those in the photos.

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The other two actors in this production are  Kroydell Galina as a tattooed man, rickshaw driver, blind man and a wheeler dealer ( in the later years) that also is a user of others to reach his desired goals and the very sexy and seductive Tiffany Villarin, who again plays several roles- in the past, she is a maid,servant and possibly geisha, later a high powered translator business woman, who just might be the the granddaughter of Spidle’s early character. Each character in the story has desire for things that are out of reach and each will do whatever is needed to attain the same. Desire, art, forgery,deception and of course eroticism are the key pieces of this erotic puzzle that Iizuka and Portes create in this very provocative production will continue at Timeline Theatre,615 Wellington Avenue ( just west of Broadway) and north of Diversey through April 14th ( and possibly, as typical with this company, extended, but one can not count on that) with performances as follows:

Wednesday and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.( except 8:30 p.m. on 2/13 and 3/28),Fridays at 8 p.m.,Saturdays at  4 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. There will be post show discussions on many dates, so check with www.timelinetheatre.com

Tickets range from $32-$42 ( students save $10)

To purchase your tickets call 773-281-8463  ext 6 or online , go to www.timelinetheatre.com

NOTE- The play is 90 minutes with NO intermission. Late seating is a problem and if you leave once the production has started, there is NO guarantee you will get back to your seat. It is “open seating” so I suggest you arrive early and look at the lobby presentation of some of the history that will be exposed to you during the play.

Parking is a bit of  a problem in this busy neighborhood, but there is a metered lot a 1/2 block North of the theater on Broadway and the other parking garages in the area do offer discounts. The bus is one of the best ways to go-

Broadway 36 and Clark Street 22 are very close and there are some great dining spots in the area ( all types of food and price ranges). The theater is up two short flights of stairs, so please bear this in mind when deciding if you can handle this show.

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com , go to Review Round-up and click on “Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West”

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