Having taken the trip to Gowanus to see “Will You Come With Me?,” a play billed as exploring “the chaos and complexities of living through an uprising,” I had dinner at a local vegan restaurant called Public Records, at 233 Butler Street.
The food was fine, but overpriced, which may be why I noticed something off about the check.
The restaurant tax was too high.
I called over the waitress. “Isn’t the tax still under ten percent? This is over ten percent.”
She used her phone as a calculator, typed in 8.875 percent, and, yes, the tax was supposed to be $2.57, but they were charging $3.20 (which was 11 percent.) But then she said: “there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s automatic.”
“But it’s a mistake.”
“It’s done automatically,” she repeated. “There’s nothing we can do about it.”
She said there was a company that did the processing of the restaurant’s taxes for them; she couldn’t change it.
“Excuse me if I sound like a schmuck, but what I would have hoped to hear from you is ‘I’ll talk to the manager so that they can bring this up with the company.’”
“I am the manager,” she said, “and I’m definitely going to bring it up.”
So that was that. I had to pay that extra 63 cents, and then I walked to Mitu580, the theater where PlayCo was presenting “Will You Come With Me?”, a play by the Turkish playwright Ebru Nihan Celkan (translated by Kate Ferguson) about two women who meet by chance in Istanbul and fall in love. The Turkish woman named Umat (Layla Khoshnoudi) and the woman who was visiting from Germany named Janina (Maribel Martinez) visit back and forth between Istanbul and Berlin over the next few years. Janina wants Umat to move in with her in Berlin. It’s a tumultuous time in Istanbul: There’s an uprising and a crackdown. So Umat agrees – but then changes her mind. That may be because the gap between the women’s experiences seems too wide. At one point, when Umut is visiting in Berlin, Janina says to Umut: “I don’t want to feel guilty every time we have fun. You’re here. We’re here. Why don’t you try to distance yourself a bit. “
Umut then says (to us, as a memory, not directly to Janina): “Police, prison, people losing their jobs, bombs… You were never going to hear anything I said. So I kept quiet.”
I pieced the story together as the 80-minute play unfolded, although it wasn’t easy (I had help from the description provided in the program and on the website.) There are a few lovely scenes between the two actresses in which the characters are getting to know one another, and some striking moody visual moments. But most of “Will You Come With Me?” was hard for me to follow. It goes back and forth in time between 2013 and 2018 and in place between Istanbul and Berlin. There seems an attempt at a structure: Before many of the scenes, we see a score written in red on the screens: “Umut: One, World: Nil” to begin with. World catches up, but I never quite caught on to what this meant.
The characters spend as much time on video and as on stage, sometimes at the same time.
There are references to incidents the playwright apparently assumes the audience will know: “Gezi ruined us,” Umut says at one point, without explaining. (I looked it up in Wikipedia afterwards; there was “a wave of demonstrations and civil unrest in Turkey [which] began on 28 May 2013, initially to contest the urban development plan for Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park.”)
And the play is full of language that’s meant to be lyrical. Some of it is: “The papercuts in my heart snap closed one by one. Where have you been for the last thousand years?”
Some of it must sound better in the original Turkish: “Now water is streaming like waterfalls from those two black caves.”
This means that the character, Ahmet, is crying. He’s crying because, as Umut relates the story, he has betrayed her to the police, telling them she was the one who had written “the petition” (unexplained), so that they would release him from their custody. Since she was moving to Berlin, he didn’t think it would matter. But, now that she’s not moving to Berlin, does it matter? It was unclear to me; the next scene takes place three years earlier.
This was not the chaos I expected. I don’t mean to sound snarky. I feel guilty that I know the restaurant tax in New York City is 8.875 percent but hadn’t known anything at all about the uprising in Istanbul. We learn from the program that the park, which figures prominently in the play (and is represented in Afsoon Pajoufar’s simple set by a park bench), is a popular meeting place, and contained an encampment “that queer activists established in the early days of the protests, in opposition to the increased harassment and systemic discrimination they experienced from the government, which had originally run on a pro-LGBTQ+ platform.”
I would have loved to have learned about this with more clarity in the play itself. It’s not that I insist on documentary theater. Belarus Free Theater is as experimental and cutting edge as they come, but is able to drive home the chilling atmosphere of life in a totalitarian state.
I left “Will You Come With Me?’ unsettled by the realization that I cared more about that 63-cent swindle than about characters sacrificing love in the fight for freedom, if that’s what they were doing.
Will You Come With Me?
Playco at Mitu580 through June 5, 2022.
Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission
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, projections designers Stefania Bulbarella and Dee Lamar Mills, and casting dIrector Victor Vasquez of X Casting. Christina M. Woolard is the production stage manager, and Babz Law is the production manager.
Cast Layla Khoshnoudi and Maribel Martine