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Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West 

When: Feb. 26-April 11 2010
Price: $13.50 - $71

Playwright Naomi Iizuka is evidently an academic at heart. Her new work, Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West, grapples with concepts as tricky and unwieldy as its title suggests: post-colonial theory, "Otherness," voyeurism, and the semiotics of photography. It's also a gorgeous play, set in a black, angular set that represents the inside of a camera. Strange Devices starts off in Meiji-eraJapan, where Isabel Hewlett (Kate Eastwood Norris) and her arms-dealer husband (Danny Wolohan) arrive for business, and stay for sex tourism. Later on, we meet their twentieth-century analogue, an art history professor who traffics in stereotypes. His fascination with two Japanese-American art dealers, Kiku (Teresa Avia Lim) and Hiro (Johnny Wu), will be his undoing. Iizuka weaves these stories together to show the perpetuation of an "Orientalist" mindset, from the olden days to contemporary academia. To accord with the theme, director Les Waters has the actors play multiple roles, repeat each others' lines, and pose in sepia-toned photographs. Set designer Mimi Lien and video artist Leah Gelpe give the play a painterly composition, while sound designer Bray Poor punctuates scenes with a sharp flash, and the click of a camera shutter. In one scene, the video screens show giant close-ups of tattooed bodies making love. It's sexy, but also incredibly discomfiting, given the thesis of the play. We're all rendered voyeurs, here. Through April 11 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre (2025 Addison St., Berkeley). $16.50-$71. BerkeleyRep.org

— Rachel Swan

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