Rachel Corrie Sparks Controversy

by Sarah Wyatt
- USA -

In 2003, Palestinian activists mourned the passing of an American, a woman whose brilliance returns to life in My Name is Rachel Corrie.

The production is based on the writings of Rachel Corrie, the 23 year-old woman who was killed on March 16, 2003 by an Israeli Army bulldozer while she was protesting against the demolition of Palestinian civilian homes. This compelling story of a personal journey is told through Corrie’s own words from her journals, as assembled by British actor Alan Rickman, who also directed the London and New York productions, and journalist Katharine Viner.

The witty and poignant drama follows Corrie's rise from her middle-class upbringing in Olympia, Washington, to becoming an activist forever remembered. Ensconced in her beloved college apartment, the play opens with Corrie reflecting on the dizzying heights and emotional lows of her childhood, on her adventures as a college peace activist, and on her heartbreaking romance with another student.

We learn that she had initially joined the Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace and then, in her senior year of college, the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). She had traveled to the Middle East to participate in ISM-organized demonstrations in Rafah.

In 2005, My Name is Rachel Corrie had its World Premiere at London’s Royal Court Theatre, where Rickman won the Theatre Goers' Choice Awards for best director. The play ran at the West End's Playhouse Theatre in London from March to May 2006, and also ran at both the Galway Arts Festival and the Edinburgh Festival in 2006. The play recently made its West Coast debut at Seattle’s Repertory Theatre.

My Name is Rachel Corrie has sparked controversy wherever it has been produced. The New York Theatre Workshop backed off from producing the play, stating a need to be “sensitive” to those in the Jewish community at the time of the Palestinian elections. Following the delay, the play instantly became a hit in New York City at the Minetta Lane Theater. The controversy followed the play north of the border, with Toronto’s CanStage cancelling its production due to fears the play “would provoke a negative reaction in the Jewish community.” The work was recently pulled from the lineup at the Miami-area Mosaic Theatre, after protests from some of the theatre's subscribers and outside individuals.

The play has made it to the stage in Corrie’s own backyard of Washington State, but not without encountering some resistance. Activists from the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle greet playgoers nightly with leaflets proclaiming that Corrie “died in Gaza after interfering with Israeli counter-terrorism operations.” Nearby, Palestinian activists distribute a brochure that indicates that Corrie was “crushed to death while trying to protect a Palestinian home from illegal demolition.” The theater program includes two large advertisements, one placed by the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, the other by the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee.

The communication from the latter features photographs of six deceased Israeli women named Rachel who were victims of Palestinian terrorism. Artistic Director David Esbjornson noted that program advertising denouncing the theatre’s work was “unprecedented.”

One doesn’t have to agree with all of Rachel’s opinions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to appreciate the passion with which the play articulates them. Theatre critics have showered the play with praise, especially hailing Rickman’s direction. The New York Times said it is “sure to strike sadly familiar chords.” “Theatrically and politically earnest," wrote The Associated Press. The New York Daily News called the play a “stirring account of the enduring Middle Eastern conflict and a telling portrait of a young student.”

My Name is Rachel Corrie runs through May 6 at the Seattle Repertory Theatre.

About the Author: Sarah Wyatt is a freelance travel and outdoors writer. A native of Iowa and a Native American, she holds a degree in Journalism and English. Wyatt has been a freelance writer for 11 years, with work appearing in Texas Monthly, Mother Jones and Theater Magazine.

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