I imagine that taking a road trip with Naomi Izuka would be a very gratifying, experience. It would be entirely scenic detours, roadside attractions and local color. You would reach your destination eventually, but it would not be from the direction you originally assumed, nor at any date previously appointed. Izuka understands that, while the shortest distance between two points might be a straight line, the most interesting distance is often more indirect. Even the title of her play, “Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West” is a really just a twisty, poetical way of saying “Camera.”
Timeline Theatre’s production of Izuka’s time-hopping drama captures her abstract style, while making sure the play never spins off its axis. Set both in 1884 Yokohama and modern day Tokyo, the play concerns a pair of Americans abroad: Victorian housewife Isabel Hewlett (Rebecca Spence), and contemporary art-historian Dmitri Mendelsohn. Hewlett becomes fascinated with the exotic , Meiji photography of ex-pat Adolfo Farsari (Mendehlson again), while Mendehlson comes to purchase some of the very same photographs, though without Hewlett’s naivete toward the native population. Through their stories, the play explores the nature of truth, and more importantly of falseness. Just as a camera can compose and real seeming image that is really just impeccably faked, so can people projects an image of themselves that shrouds their inner depths.
Luckily, Timeline’s cast (including Craig Spidle, Kroydell Galima and Tiffany Villarin) ensures that plays humanity is never lost amid its many intellectual acrobatics. Staged alley-style by director Lisa Portes, the actors take advantage of the intimate setting to evoke rich inner lives, masked by carefully composed but frail and brittle facades. While some of the design choices occasionally, particularly in the set by Brian Sydney Bembridge and the music by Mikhail Fiksel, evoke a slightly stereotypical Japan, the show on the whole is gorgeous to look at. The video design by Mike Tutaj deserves especial recognition.
This production goes to show that, while a road trip with Naomi Izuka might be a fun experience, it’s also a good idea to have someone there with a map, making sure you never get too far off track.