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Maps For A War Tourist – Dixon Place, New York

Writers: Jeremy M. Barker, Kathryn Hamilton, Kelsea Martin, Cyrus Moshrefi, Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste

Director: Kathryn Hamilton

Reviewer: Robert Price

Solemn silence greets the arriving audience for Sister Sylvester’s latest production. Treading lightly over the sand-colored butcher paper that blankets the ground of the stage and seating, they only realize after sitting that the distant rumbling they hear is not a recording. It is sound generated by two live tortoises shifting about on a plywood platform upstage. They move in and out of a heat lamp’s warmth as director Kathryn Hamilton begins to read an essay into a microphone, seated onstage next to the lighting and projection operators. She tells the story of Deniz Karacagil, a high school graduate arrested at a protest in Turkey who fled her jail sentence to join The Kurdish Workers Party. Three years ago, Hamilton moved to Istanbul to do research for the piece and watched the arrests become more frequent. People were being held indefinitely on spurious charges. Then in May, Deniz was killed. The piece reflects that unexpected tragedy.

Intercut with the essay’s search for understanding are short stories told in projected slides. Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste and Cyrus Moshrefi relate three tales of tortoises with humor and energy. Aeschylus, the father of Tragedy, was killed by a falling tortoise dropped by an eagle. The eagle’s point of view is contrasted with the tortoise’s throughout the piece: as the map applications that can track the movements of your loved ones, or the metal birds that drop instruments of destruction. In moments between narrations the cyclorama is painted with shapes of color that crawl across the screen. Music manufactured from the tortoises’ shells accompanies the geometric shapes. Video clips show us little pieces of Turkey including a conversation with Karacagil’s grandmother. 

The piece was once intended to be a play, but has fractured into irreconcilable ideas. The essay wrestles with how to tell a story that is both individual and political, about a landscape that is always shifting in a world so distant from our own. There is an anecdote told about a poem of Brecht’s, written about the tortoises on propaganda flyers. The quoting of Bertolt Brecht is not accidental, his ideal is realized in a night of imperative consideration. The truth of it only takes shape in bearing witness to the piece: the conversations it inspires are the final act. The audio-visual experience is both strange and terrifying, sinking its teeth into what cannot be expressed in words.

Runs until 17 June 2017

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