After making the trip to Gowanus to see “Will You Come With Me?”, a play that explores “the chaos and complexities of life through rioting,” I dined at a local vegan restaurant called Public Records in 233 Butler Street for dinner.
The food was ok but overpriced which may be why I noticed something about the bill.
The restaurant tax was too high.
I called the waitress. “Isn’t the tax still below 10 percent? That is over ten percent.”
Using her phone as a calculator, she typed in 8.875 percent, and yes, the tax was supposed to be $2.57, but they charged $3.20 (that was 11 percent). But then she said: “There is nothing we can do about it . It’s automatic.”
“But it’s a mistake.”
“It happens automatically,” she repeated. “There’s nothing we can do about that.”
She said there was a company that handled the restaurant’s taxes for her; she couldn’t help it.
“Excuse me if I sound like an idiot, but I was hoping to hear from you, ‘I’m going to speak to the manager so he can discuss this with the company.'”
“I’m the manager,” she said, “and I’ll definitely bring it up.”
So that’s it. I had to pay that extra 63 cents and then went to Mitu580, the theater where PlayCo was presenting Will You Come With Me?, a play by Turkish playwright Ebru Nihan Celkan (translated by Kate Ferguson) about two women who meet happen to be in Istanbul and fall in love. The Turkish woman named Umat (Layla Khoshnoudi) and Janina (Maribel Martinez), who is visiting from Germany, commute back and forth between Istanbul and Berlin over the next few years. Janina would like Umat to move in with her in Berlin. It’s a turbulent time in Istanbul: there’s a riot and a raid. So Umat agrees – but then changes her mind. This may be because the gap between women’s experiences seems too great. Once, when Umut is visiting Berlin, Janina says to Umut: “I don’t want to feel guilty every time we have fun. You are here. Were here. Why don’t you try to distance yourself a little? “
Umut then says (to us, as a reminder, not directly to Janina): “Police, prison, people losing their jobs, bombs… You would never hear from me. So I kept silent.”
I pieced the story together as the 80 minute piece unfolded, although it wasn’t easy (I had help from the description in the program and on the website). Getting to know each other and some striking atmospheric visual moments. But most of “Will You Come With Me?” was hard for me to follow. It goes back and forth between 2013 and 2018 and between Istanbul and Berlin. It seems an attempt at structuring: before many scenes we see a score written in red on the screens: “Umut: One, World: Nile” at the beginning. World is catching up, but I never quite understood what that meant.
The characters spend just as much time on video and on stage, sometimes at the same time.
There are references to incidents that the playwright apparently assumes the audience is familiar with: “Gezi ruined us,” says Umut at one point without explaining. (I looked it up on Wikipedia afterwards; there was “a wave of demonstrations and civil unrest in Turkey [which] began on May 28, 2013, initially to contest the urban plan for Taksim Gezi Park in Istanbul.
And the piece is full of language meant to be lyrical. Some of them are: “The paper cuts in my heart are snapping shut one by one. Where have you been for the last thousand years?”
Some of it must sound better in the Turkish original: “Now water flows like waterfalls from these two black caves.”
This means that the character Ahmet is crying. He is crying because, as Umut tells the story, he betrayed her to the police, telling them she was the one who wrote ‘the petition’ (unexplained) so that they would release him from their detention. Since she was going to Berlin, he figured it wouldn’t matter. But now that she’s not going to Berlin, does that matter? It was unclear to me; the next scene takes place three years earlier.
It wasn’t the chaos I expected. I don’t want to be snappy. I feel guilty that I know the restaurant tax in New York City is 8.875 percent but I didn’t know anything about the Istanbul riot. From the broadcast, we learn that the park, which features prominently in the play (and is represented by a park bench in Afsoon Pajoufar’s simple set), is a popular meeting place and contained a camp “that queer activists used in the early days of the Protests against the increasing harassment and systemic discrimination they have experienced from the government, which initially ran on a pro-LGBTQ+ platform.”
I would have liked to have experienced that more clearly in the play itself. It’s not that I insist on documentary theatre. Belarusian Free Theater is as experimental and innovative as it gets, yet it is able to bring home the terrifying atmosphere of life in a totalitarian state.
I left Do you want to come with me? unsettled by the realization that I was more interested in this 63-cent hoax than characters who sacrificed their love for freedom, if they did.
will you come with me
Playco at Mitu580 until June 5, 2022.
Running time: 80 minutes without a break
Tickets: $10 to $65
Written by Ebru Nihan Celkan
Directed by Keenan Tyler Oliphant
Set Designer Afsoon Pajoufar, Costume Designer Enver Chakartash, Lighting Designer Reza Behjat, Sound Designer Avi Amon, Projection Designers Stefania Bulbarella and Dee Lamar Mills, and Casting Director Victor Vasquez of X Casting. Christina M. Woolard is executive producer and Babz Law is executive producer.
Starring Layla Khoshnoudi and Maribel Martine