Rachel Corrie’s final hurrah

You may have heard of Rachel Corrie, the Evergreen State College student who was literally bulldozed to death in 2003 by the Israeli military while attempting to protect a Palestinian home in the Gaza Strip.

You may have heard of Rachel Corrie, the Evergreen State College student who was literally bulldozed to death in 2003 by the Israeli military while attempting to protect a Palestinian home in the Gaza Strip. You may have heard of My Name is Rachel Corrie, the play composed entirely of excerpts from Corrie’s journals and e-mails. You may have already judged the play, or Corrie, without ever having heard much about either.

You wouldn’t be alone if you did. Corrie’s death was highly controversial, as the play has been since its American opening in New York was canceled mid-production.

Those who feed the controversy are missing the point. Yes, Corrie left her lifelong home in Olympia, Wash., to travel to Rafah, a town in the Gaza Strip, and yes, she elected to work with the International Solidarity Movement, a Palestinian-led organization committed to resisting Israeli occupation. Yes, she lost her life supporting the mission of the ISM and yes, some people may want to paint Corrie as a martyr for the Palestinian cause.

But based on the private journal entries this play is composed of, Corrie was not particularly interested in the fallacies of Zionism or the Palestinian claim to Jerusalem; in fact, Corrie was really not all that political. It seems, even, that her presence in Gaza was chance—she could just as easily have ended up in the mountains of Afghanistan, the slums of Rio de Janeiro, the Darfur region of Sudan or the island of Haiti. Corrie’s interest in traveling abroad lay in expanding her worldview, and her interest in Gaza was in protecting people, not a homeland.

Corrie’s writings about Palestine are not about “their” right to anything. Corrie discusses the families she’s stayed with and the people she’s met, and she believed strongly that these people deserved their homes as well as reliable access to clean water. She believed that the children she met deserved an education, and she believed that the military of Israel was purposefully and oppressively obstructing the Palestinians’ access to work, school and even the ocean.

Corrie may also have believed that being a white American meant she couldn’t be killed. That she was killed without regard to her race or nationality is only one of the dozens of interesting points that My Name successfully raises.

This play is all about fostering discussion, and everything about the Northwest Classical Theatre Company and Three Good Friends’ production of My Name is Rachel Corrie is right-on.

They’ve put on no airs—the show is in a converted tile showroom on Southeast Stark Street and the set and costuming are as low-key as could be. Rachel Corrie (played by Portland State graduate Amanda Jensen as well as Grant High School senior Madeleine Rogers) wears a sweatshirt and jeans, carries a backpack and represents her family and friends with cardboard caricatures that she pulls out of her journal and fastens with Velcro to the theater walls.

The production companies have also created a comfortable space. The theater is incredibly intimate—perhaps there are 35 seats total—and the lobby is full of brochures about the projects of the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice, facts about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and small roundtables with chairs for relaxing before and after the show. There are also cookies, candy, coffee and tea, free and freely available.

Certain aspects of the production itself are superb. The decision to use two actors—one teenaged, one 20-something—for the role of Rachel Corrie, for example, reminds the audience that the script pulls from over a decade of Corrie’s writings and facilitates the shifts in time. The two Corries’ interaction with one another is well directed, and the two together create an energy on-stage that allows the viewer to forget they are watching a 90-minute soliloquy. Rogers, in particular, is a standout.

There are also some well-chosen video and still image incorporations, though one audio segment of American reactions to the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center was highly unnecessary and borderline offensive. What that particular act of cruelty and terrorism has to do with Rachel Corrie is a mystery, and its inclusion in this production seems almost to hint that it has something to do with Israel, Gaza or Corrie’s motivations.

My Name was created and edited by Brits (Katherine Viner and Alan Rickman) and the play debuted in London to sold-out audiences and critical acclaim.

This production is one-act and runs approximately 90 minutes.