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Maps For A War Tourist

Two actual tortoises star in this solemn and difficult high-tech performance piece. It tells the story of a young, female Turkish art student’s sad fate.

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Kelsea Martin in a scene from Sister Sylvester’s “Maps For A War Tourist” (Photo credit: Maria Baranova)


Darryl Reilly, Critic

Created by the documentarian theatre company Sister Sylvester, Maps for a War Tourist was intended to be a biographical exploration of the life of Deniz Karacagil.  A former Turkish art student, Ms. Karacagil was arrested three years ago for wearing a red scarf outside. That was interpreted by the authorities as a provocative gesture in support of socialism.

After being released, and before her trial began, where she faced a 90-year prison sentence, she fled Turkey.  She went to Syria and then Iraq, where she joined a military group, the Kuridsh Workers Party (PPK) to fight against ISIS.  On May 29, 2017 she was killed in a battle.

“How do you tell stories in times like these?”

Sister Sylvester decided to scrap their planned production because of her death, and this very recently created work is offered in place of it.  Though heartfelt, it’s difficult.

The theater is has a relatively small amount of seats scattered around.  The floor is covered in heavy white paper that rustles.  Off to the side of the stage is a long table where production members sit at laptops.

On stage is a small, shallow pen composed of plastic, with a wooden base.  There are two medium sized tortoises in it, and nearby is a young woman.  For about seven minutes the audience sits in silence watching the tortoises.  Then there are the sounds of water in a tank and the show begins.

The simple reality is that the audience is in the dark looking at the tortoises along with high-tech flourishes for virtually the entire production.

The director Kathryn Hamilton, who conceived this work, is at the control table and is the narrator.  Speaking in the detached, plummy British tones of a BBC newsreader she recites from the free associative script.  It’s a dense collage of political information, philosophical digressions and biographical facts.

Kelsea Martin, Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste, Kathryn Hamilton and Cyrus Moshrefi in  a scene from Sister Sylvester’s “Maps For A War Tourist” (Photo credit: Peter Yesley )

The back wall of the stage is a screen on which live video of the tortoises is projected.  They walk around, eat and fraternize.  They’re mesmerizing.  Their symbolic use is explained by references to Aeschylus, Greek mythology and a poem by Bertolt Brecht.  Eventually the young girl gets into the pen and is observes the tortoises and adds props such as paper that is made to resemble mountains.  There are videos of people drawing maps of the geographical regions discussed.

Ms. Hamilton drones on throughout.  It’s all a cerebrally interesting but not an enthralling experience.  The finale has Hamilton standing center stage, addressing the audience and reading an emotional note from Karacagil’s mother as a still photograph of Karacagil is shown.  These concluding few moments are the most emotionally involving of the show.  This raises the question, could the original piece have been performed with the addition of this elegiac coda?

Bruce Steinberg’s stately lighting design is an assortment of various levels of darkness mixed with appropriate brightness.

Hamilton created Maps for a War Tourist with Kelsea Martin Cyrus Moshrefi Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste and dramaturge Jeremy M. Barker.

Ms. Martin appears as the young woman and would have played Karacagil.  Cyrus Moshrefi and Mr. Toussaint-Baptiste appear in video interviews and are at the control table.

The stellar tortoises are from the animal adoption organization, the Social Tees Rescue Center, located in The East Village.

Part documentary and part reflections, Maps for a War Tourist is in the manner a film essay in the style of such European filmmakers as Agnès Varda and Chantal Akerman.   It certainly is unique and accomplishes its intentions.

Maps for a War Tourist (through June 17, 2017)

Sister Sylvester

Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit

Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission

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