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TO MAY 31

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In America today, theater photography is a rather dowdy pursuit. Most pictures that accompany newspaper reviews are handouts from the theater company, and even when these images are not posed, they are static enough to seem as if they were. By contrast, the theater photographs of Fataneh Dadkhah, now on display at the brand-new Roulette Gallery in Kensington, bristle with emotion. And for good reason: Dadkhah insisted on taking her photographs (Jamms Wailing is pictured) during live performances—the better to show off the performers’ despair or ecstasy. And Dadkhah made these images for art’s sake, not to fill newspaper pages. As a result, she was able to experiment, sometimes backing away from the proscenium arch to create such images as Years of Sand #1, in which a faraway actor stands within a deep-blue rectangle, giving the impression that he/she has been dunked into an water tank. But what really sets Dadkhah’s work apart is the context: Now a resident of Potomac, Md., Dadkhah made her images over a two-decade span in the Iranian capital of Tehran, where she was affiliated with a theater company that pushed artistic boundaries. And though the company didn’t have to go underground after the 1979 Islamic revolution—it was allowed to use the Roudaki Hall, the city’s main opera house—its mix of Iranian and Western plays did have to be approved by officials of the nation’s theocratic government. To remain true to their principles yet free to perform, Dadkhah and the actors she chronicled had to walk a tightrope. Perhaps this explains her habit of capturing actors at their most enigmatic; in her images, their heads are obscured by a fishtank, swirling newspapers, blackface, veiled costumes, and sometimes simply by impenetrable darkness. Dadkhah’s photographs are on view from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, to Friday, May 31, at Roulette Gallery, 10421 Armory Ave., Kensington. Free. (301) 962-8900. (Louis Jacobson)