DIRTY TURKAn Original Piece Produced by Artstillery
Director, Producer – Ilkner Ozgur
Puppeteer, Lights – Jennifer Culver
Video Editing & Design – Alisa Eykilis
Video Contributor – Johnny Rutledge
Dramaturgy – Haley Nelson
Taner – Contributor/Consultant
Puppet Master – Noel Williams
Stage Manager – Lead – Steve Mitchell
Sir Martin – Stage Manager
Performer - Safwan Chowdhury
Performer and Puppet Co-Conspirator - Lucila Rojas
Performer – Landan Bagherpour
Performer – Catie Chan
Performer – Hori Hartz
Performer, Sound, Video & Lighting – Michael Cleveland
Performer - Christopher Lucero
Performer - Jonah Gutierrez
Performer – Ava Whatley
Performer – Max Torres
Reviewed Performance: 8/25/2018
Reviewed by Kathleen Morgan, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Once you arrive at the modest venue on Fort Worth Avenue and claim your ticket, you are asked to wait outside until the moment the show begins. When the time comes, a staff member reads instructions for the audience, including where you are allowed to sit- the first unusual sign. The doors open and you file in to a large, dark room, (referred to as “the memory” by the staff member reading instructions) that is a smorgasbord of activity. First and foremost, your attention is immediately drawn to two 10-ft tall figures slowly ambling around “the memory.” These figures are actors wearing “backpack puppets) – larger than life paper-mache head and hands extensions, one an old man, and one an old woman. Their looming and unexpected presence is disturbing and somewhat frightening.
After you process these daunting figures, you quickly look around to take in the rest of the memory. In the center, there is a screen where a projection of Turkish text is displayed while a prayer chant plays in the background. In other parts of the room, there is a small TV with old cartoons playing, a separate projection of people riding motorcycles, a potted plant with a perpetual stream of water flowing into it, along with many other odds and ends. The audience is permitted to sit in specially- marked chairs strewn around the edges of the memory. As there is no formal seating area for the audience and the action takes place in every corner of the space, this show is truly immersive.
Dirty Turk was comprised of a series of scenes that didn’t seem to flow into each other or occur in consecutive order – making it altogether quite confusing to figure out what was going on and where. Perhaps this was done to reflect that the scenes are memories of the main character. After all, our own memories come to us at varying times and in no particular order. There were 3 figures of varying ages with the same hairstyle and same outfit, and I take them to be the main character “Ozlem” at different stages of her life (there is some guessing to be done here as audience members are not given a program, and this information is not available online). Ava Whatley (child Ozlem) was articulate and full of energy, and gracefully handled difficult scenes such as when she challenged her father for driving recklessly. The most fiery scenes occurred when Ozlem was a young adult, defying her mother in typical exuberant teenage fights. Lucila Rojas (young adult Ozlem) delivered an exceptional performance here, passionately standing up for herself to her mother whether she was defending her time spent with a boy, or calling her out for trying to make the family seem more conventional than they really were. Her angst and frustration at both being an immigrant and a young woman who yearns to be independent were palpable. Finally, Landan Bagherpour portrayed the third Ozlem, who I interpreted to be the eldest and most mature version of the character. She floated through scenes calmly and confidently, occasionally helping her father recount a story or teasing him for having exhibited racist behaviors.
Safwan Chowdhury and Catie Chan both delivered excellent performances as Ozlem’s grandparents. Despite being young actors, they both threw their voices in such a way as to convince you that they were older. Both also handled their massive puppet extensions with grace. Although the choice for puppet extensions was never explicitly stated, I believe that it serves a number of symbolic purposes. Since these characters lived in Turkey (or rather, outside of the US – where the story takes place) for most of their lives, the unusual puppet extensions highlight how different and foreign immigrants often feel in the US, and now differently Americans view and treat them. Additionally, since these characters are older, the puppet extensions forced them to move very slowly, making their advanced age more believable.
Playing the headstrong and confident mother of Ozlem, Tori Hartz thrilled the audience as a female immigrant with an estranged husband who does her best to provide for her children despite relying on food stamps. She showed a dynamic range of emotion during an early shouting match with Ozlem’s father, going from stubbornly defiant to distraught with tears after he shoves her. Michael Cleveland played Ozlem’s father, a man whose stubbornness is as toxic as his masculinity. Cleveland’s most powerful scenes were the ones where he was blind with rage. The more tender scenes, such as the recounting of the drowning of his childhood friend, left something to be desired. Throughout this scene, shadow work and video was used to illustrate the story. Although it was interesting and unusual to watch, I felt like it was an unnecessary distraction from the tragedy of the story.
Ozlem’s brother, played by Max Torres, came in and out of the memory, playing the cool brother that encourages Ozlem to buy a motorcycle. His performance was confident and laid-back. Christopher Lucero played a family friend who came in time to time to speak with the grandparents, often offering fiery opinions, or rapping certain violent passages much to the grandparents’ chagrin. Finally, Jonah Gutierrez portrayed a character I will refer to as “The Shooter.” About halfway through the production, Gutierrez storms in with a gun and starts shooting members of Ozlem’s family. They dramatically fall to the ground, dead. However, moments later, everyone is back like nothing had happened. You can imagine my surprise when there was a second shooting scene where the same thing happened (although there was different blocking and different people “died”). As if that wasn’t enough of a shock, there was a third shooting scene where the same thing happened once more! Furthermore, sometimes Gutierrez’s character seemed to be a young man Ozlem was interested in, and at other times, a family member. Although Gutierrez’s performance as an enraged shooter was very convincing and passionate, the whole series of exchanges were bizarre and confusing. I’m sure there are several symbolic explanations but none were apparent to my guest or me.
Dirty Turk brought many important issues surrounding immigrants and their experiences in America to light. However, I feel like the message was lost with a story line that jumped around, confusing and daunting life-sized puppets, dialogue that sometimes took place outside the building, media and shadow work. I admire the creativity of Artstillery and the work that it took to make this production, but I feel like the highly unusual and unconventional way in which they did it caused some importance to be lost along the way.
August 24 through September 29, 2018
723 Fort Worth Ave, Dallas TX
Friday and Saturday nights, 8:00pm
Regular Tickets: $25
Student and La Bajada Community member tickets: $10
To purchase tickets, visit: https://go.thryv.com/site/ys7wxsdusecu4s4y?o=cHJvZmlsZV9wYWdl&s=aHR0cHM6Ly9nby50aHJ5di5jb20vc2l0ZS9hcnRzdGlsbGVyeQ%3D%3D