Told through reading and performance, audio and visual components, the two-act play “Women’s SafeHouse” opened for the first time in America at Eastern Michigan University’s Frank Ross Laboratory Theatre in Quirk Hall on Monday night.
“Women’s SafeHouse,” written by Turkish playwright Tuncer Cucenoglu, depicts a modern tragedy about 11 women and their stories at a safe house in Istanbul, Turkey, where they fell as victims of violence and abuse.
A student under the playwright, EMU student, director and translator of “Women’s SafeHouse,” Rozita U.G. Steen, has brought to life the story of those women and of Turkish culture to the American stage for her final graduate project at EMU.
“Abuse and violence against women are universal issues,” she stated in her director notes. “I wish it would never happen anywhere in the world. Women never deserve abuse.”
A survivor of abuse herself, Steen has reedited the play because of her own “personal engagement with being in a women’s safehouse,”
“I wanted to make an advocacy. I wanted to make a voice for everyone. It’s not only in America, but everywhere,” she said.
With a cast of 10 women, the performance was done in a stage reading where the cast read their scripts aloud while moving around the space in the theatre.
Before the show, Steen showed the packed audience that night clips on YouTube about the facts and percentages about the amount of women in Turkey who are abused and killed from tribal laws, sexual abuse, honor killings and other examples of violence.
“We are all under the risk of violence,” Steen said. “There’s always light at the end of the tunnel. There is always hope.”
Turkish music played as the performance began. The audience was taken to the inside of a safe house with a couch, kitchen, TV and, on the side, a psychologist’s office. With music, props and costumes displaying Turkish design, it was easy to be taken by the Turkish culture being presented. There were also audio incorporations such as a car driving, doorbell and a voice of a threating man within the show.
The stories told included subjects on spousal rape, domestic abuse, as well as psychological abuse that happened to the women.
Showing comedy and warmth by the connectivity of the women together at the safe house, there was still a dark overtone over the performance of how the women ended up there.
Lady Dudu (Analy Aguilar) was an older woman at the safe house who was there after being abused by her daughter-in-law and kicked out of the house.
Other women included Fidan (Ellie Curtis) a 17-year-old girl and her mother, Rosey (Heather Nordenbrock), who were there because the mother caught her husband cheating and dragged her daughter, her husband’s favorite, to the safe house after running away from their hometown.
Smyrnaean (Kelsey Booth) was abused twice by two different husbands and decided to take shelter at the safe house.
A notable moment in the performance of “SafeHouse” was when Smyrnaean yelled at her harassing husband to leave her alone and that she made up her mind to stay at the shelter despite his threats.
“It was really empowering,” Booth said about her character performance. “I apply it to my life.”
Lastly, Diyarbakirite or Zilfo (Scout Bostly), a 17-year-old girl, was at the safe house to take refuge after running away with a boy that she loved and going against a marriage arranged by her family. She wore a hijab as a disguise to protect herself from her brother, who was looking to kill her as an honor killing.
“Wearing the hijab in the moment, having to conceal yourself—it was super powerful,” said Bostley.
Toward the end there was a plot twist that left the audience quiet. One attendee was shaken and had tears in his eyes.
There was a discussion with the director, the cast and the audience about the show after a quick debrief. The cast talked about their experience and about the challenges of learning the Turkish culture and translations.
“It was very interesting,” said Aguilar, who played Lady DuDu. “I enjoyed it. It brought everyone together.”
“It’s been very fun, very challenging but very educational as well so I’ve been really enjoying it,” said Jessica Cornell, who stage managed the show.
Portraying only a day in the life of the women at a safe house, “Women’s SafeHouse” has brought a compelling story about the reality of women not only from Turkey, but close to many women in America, and the rest of the world as well.