Wednesday, October 25, 2006

My Name Is Rachel Corrie

At the end of My Name Is Rachel Corrie, a video is played of the real Rachel Corrie at age ten arguing passionately at an assembly that world hunger can and must be stopped. Thirteen years later, on March 16, 2003, having lost none of her passion for human rights and living in Palestine advocating for the rights of Palestinians, an Israeli Army bulldozer in the Gaza Strip killed Ms. Corrie while she tried to stop the demolition of a Palestinian home.

My immediate thought as I left the theatre after seeing My Name Is Rachel Corrie was: "Wow. I've done absolutely nothing with my life."

Even though she died at the age of 23, Rachel Corrie did a hell of a lot with her life, and realized she could and should have been doing more.

My Name Is Rachel Corrie is a one-woman show culled from the diary entries and emails of Rachel herself, edited by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner with the permission of Rachel's parents and directed by Mr. Rickman. Megan Dodds plays Rachel, a girl from Olympia, who decides she wants to be a writer. However, in order to be a writer, she has to move out of her small town in order to write about real experiences. Eventually, she moves to the Gaza Strip to be an advocate for the human rights of Palestinians.

The first twenty minutes or so take place in her bedroom in Olympia, talking about awkward meetings with boys and being fraught with indecision as to what to do with her life (she jokes that, even when in college, she didn't have the nerve to cross "Spider-Man" off her list of what to be when she grows up).

This portion of the play does drag. Her monologues are meandering and without focus. Yes, I know this is supposed to be because we need to see Rachel as a rudderless aspiring writer with passion but not direction, but I found my concentration waning here and there.

Fortunately, the rest of the show picks up the pace. The bulk of the play takes place in and around Jerusalem and the Rafah refugee camp, where Rachel stays with Palestinian families in homes that are on the verge of collapsing from attacks, plays with children to distract them from the sound of gunfire, waits endlessly at Israeli checkpoints and organizes rallies. Throughout this, she's lost none of her passion or optimism, though her faith in mankind's inherent goodness is a bit shaken.

Though clearly older than her real-life counterpart, Ms. Dodds does a good job of portraying Ms. Corrie at both stages of her life (the restless dreamer in Olympia and the tired activist in Rafah). She plays her as someone who still has a youthful heart, although said heart is getting heavier day by day.

I can see why it had stirred up some controversy earlier in the year: it takes a very unpopular stance on a very divisive issue. To be as reductive as possible (and yes, I realize there's more to the show than this and it's saying much more and if you said this to Mr. Rickman and Ms. Viner they would probably deny it, but let's just get down to the proverbial "brass tacks" and face it): My Name Is Rachel Corrie takes a pro-Palestine, anti-Israel stance. Or at least, its eponymous heroine does.

Not the most popular position in the U.S., I realize. (Philip Weiss from The Nation pointed out that after Ms. Corrie's death, several Pro-Israel and neocon groups sought to smear her as a servant of terrorists.)

Despite this, the play is not Mr. Rickman or Ms. Viner's attempt to scream from a political soapbox. This is neither heavy-handed agitprop nor knee-jerk reactionary theatre. It is a play that shows the life, thoughts and beliefs of a very young woman who chose to be where she thought she could do some good.

Although having enjoyed a successful run in London (and getting the plug pulled from the New York Theatre Workshop), My Name Is Rachel Corrie is a play that needs to be shown in the U.S., since the bulk of Rachel Corrie's monologues are directly addressing Americans and their implicit support for Israel. (At one point, she writes in an email to her mother: "What we are paying for here is truly evil. This is not the world you and Dad wanted me to come into when you decided to have me.") It also just feels so patently American with its references to swimming in Puget Sound and drinking Mountain Dew (not to mention seeing Spider-Man as a possible career choice).

This is a solid production of...yes, I'll say important play. It articulates a very unpopular and minority viewpoint (minority viewpoint in this country, anyway) in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that needs to be heard and considered by American audiences. It's one of the few works of recent Western art I've seen that considers that, maybe, just maybe, Palestinians aren't all warmongering terrorists, but victims of systematic attempts at genocide from "the world's fourth largest military backed by the world's only superpower."

My Name Is Rachel Corrie is playing at the Minetta Lane Theatre on 18 Minetta Lane. For tickets click here.

Doing nothing with his life,

James "Passive Schmuck" Comtois

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