“My Names is Rachel Corrie” is theater as political debate

But email musings by 20-something on Israel-Palestine is not good drama

By Lucy Komisar

This solo theater piece will be judged by two standards.

The first is political: are viewers convinced by its arguments against Israeli policy in the West Bank and Gaza? Are they moved and persuaded by the writings — journal and emails — of Rachel Corrie, a young American, 23, who in 2003 was killed in Gaza by an Israeli bulldozer as she tried to block it from knocking down a Palestinian home?

The second standard is artistic: is this a theatrically exciting production?

The answer to the first depends on your politics. Rachel was obviously na¯ve if she thought – and it‘s the impression one gets — that the struggle by Palestinians is represented by the non-violent actions she took part in. Whether the Israeli‘s have the right to be in Gaza is something else.

The answer to the second is a pretty firm “no.” Putting together teenage musings and 20-something activist‘s emails home in this case doesn‘t work dramatically. The play is not helped by the fact that Megan Dodds deals with teenage angst in Olympia, Washington, with the same level of earnest intensity as she does with deadly confrontations in Gaza.

The story told in the monologue delivered by Dodds moves from Rachel‘s rather unexceptional teenage home life– encompassed by a bedroom painted red and plastered with photographs — to a trip to Russia that raised her consciousness about the world. We learn about her peace and justice activism, her feelings about boys and parents, and finally her decision to go to Gaza and become part of a movement that involves foreigners and Palestinians in nonviolent resistance against Israeli government actions. Now the set becomes white concrete blocks pock-marked with bullet holes.

Rachel visits Palestinian homes that are targeted by Israeli troops. She describes the Israeli tanks and watch towers and checkpoints. She witnesses violence: “Today‘s Demo. At least ten greenhouses destroyed. Cucumbers, peas, olives, tomatoes….150-200 Men arrested. Shot around them. Eat them. Six people in hospital.” She describes bulldozers destroying 25 greenhouses. She reports that an explosive broke the windows in a home where she was having tea.

Based on the arguments of Israeli government critics and supporters, the play will not change anyone‘s mind. People will view Rachel Corrie as a heroine or a na¯f.

But as an artistic endeavor, the play is hampered by the decision of Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner to build it only on Rachel‘s writings. Sometimes she displays a budding talent. She might have been a successful novelist. She writes lines such as: “I have to grab the great big flaccid flaps of my eyebrows and lift them off my cheekbones in order to see.” Her words describe interior feelings and thoughts. However, what emerges is a narrative with no sense of place.

“Nine Parts of Desire,” about Iraq under attack, was vivid and exciting because writer-actor Heather Raffo created and portrayed a series of characters that gave one a rich sense of being there. You flinched when bombs went off.

But though Rachel talks about people she interacts with, we never hear them. We hear only a foreign activist speaking to people of her own western world. It is hard to imagine that she was really in the place she describes. The most exciting part of the play is the genuine video of a ten-year-old Rachel giving a classroom political speech about world justice. Unfortunately, a political speech – the sum of her later thoughts – in this case doesn‘t make a play.

“My Name is Rachel Corrie,” Taken from the writings of Rachel Corrie; edited by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner. Starring Megan Dodds. Directed by Mr. Rickman. Designed by Hildegard Bechtler.

A Royal Court Theater production at the Minetta Lane Theater, 18 Minetta Lane, at Sixth Ave. & Macdougal St. Greenwich Village. Tue-Sat 8pm; Sat & Sun 3pm; Sun 7pm. $25-$75. (212) 307-4100. Through Dec. 30, 2006. Running time: 1:30. http://mynameisrachelcorrie.com.

Photos by Stephen Cummiskey.

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