“Maps For a War Tourist” by Sister Sylvester marks my first viewing of a performance art piece. It is definitely a unique piece revealing the story of a young woman in Turkey named Deniz Karacagil who finds herself facing a lifelong prison conviction (90 years) but manages to escape that fate and become a militant fighter with the PKK or the Kurdish Workers Party, a group both the United States and her native Turkey consider a terrorist organization. We see an interview with her mother (a life-long activist who favors peaceful means), various maps from Deniz's cohorts of routes they'd taken or took and of course, the tortoises!!
Yes, there were actual tortoises as part of this show in a glass pen. The “aww, cute animals!” part of my psyche was delighted to see them & hoping that they were getting treated well. Yes, I'm a weirdo who wanted to have a turtle as a pet at one point in my childhood though I was surrounded by cats; I even thought this huge sea turtle at an aquarium in Long Island my ex took me to was cute though that turtle startled me when we were at that exhibit and my ex made fun of me for being startled.
I also thought their inclusion was a daring move on the part of the production since animals as a rule are unpredictable and could end up someplace you didn't plan on them being or relieving themselves at some time + location you didn't expect, creating a very unpleasant environment for your audience. This would definitely happen with cats. These tortoises seemed at ease and comfy enough.
Dixon Place is a very interesting venue. You walk into a bar with a tiny stage in the front left along with a mishmash of various styles of chairs for the audience as well as a piano to the left of the stage. It feels like a small coffee shop with a bar though I would fear running into members of the crazy liberal set. Before going in, I swear I heard some political discussion going on to my side that was of an anti-Trump nature. I didn't interject since I was present to observe and review; I also didn't hear utter hypocrisy being brandished so I felt no compulsion to speak up.
The stage is down a small, dark hallway and we arrived in a room with a large amount of paper covering with chairs lined up in a gap setting among 3 huge stair steps. The chair setup was awesome since you didn't have to worry about anyone's head blocking your view. I arrived to see someone sitting next to the tortoises along with 3 people at a long table to the right. I thought “so they're tech and this woman's the tortoise handler” and that we should expect someone to come out and start the show. Instead this show started sort of unexpectedly with lights going down, a pause and then a woman on the side where I figured they were the tech people started reading the script. In fact, it felt like we were just waiting for the show to start and getting background on Ms. Karacagil & her journey vs. watching the show. Audio visuals were involved and there was the description of seeing the world as a bird or as a tortoise and how your view of the world is different if you see it as a bird vs. as a tortoise. Our tortoises make significant appearances on film & our tortoise wrangler does far more than that in the show: she handles spreading out the maps drawn, steps into the tortoise pen at one point where we see her socks on the screen in front of us.
Perhaps I'm not the best audience for this show as I'm not a geopolitical expert by a long stretch and am definitely no performance art expert. I'm also not sure if I felt the story was as relatable as it could have been for myself or others who did not come from that culture or those circumstances or follow the geopolitical details. I would have liked more details and development of some of the people that are discussed in the script and how they made an impact on Ms. Karacagil; I liked seeing the interview with her mother, who seemed worried about her daughter & was unhappy about not getting to see her later on but supported what she was doing and felt her cause was justified. She stated that it was “an eye for an eye” though she decided to align with a political party called the HDP, the People's Democracy Party, that was supporting the same ideals her daughter was fighting for without the violence. At one point, a performer crawls underneath the paper covering the stage in order to create what appears to be a live map right in our floor space. Our tortoises are placed in that area towards the end as well and I'm thinking “I hope they are okay.”
I didn't feel like this was a piece where the audience was being pushed to feel positively or negatively about Ms. Karacagil but to simply give her a voice as a human being in the world faced with circumstances that we have to ask ourselves what we would have done if we were in her shoes. The cast was Kelsea Martin (our tortoise wrangler), Cyrus Moshrefi, Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste and Kathryn Hamilton (who also conceived and directed this piece). It definitely qualifies as one of those performances where if you attend, you will feel you are seeing the true NYC and the egalitarian feel that this city prides itself on. I wouldn't bring the kids but your politically minded, global citizen type friends might be a good choice for this one.