January 8, 2007
By the time My Name is Rachel Corrie opened for a six-week run in New York City this fall, it had already received a great deal of media attention.
The one-woman drama recreates the life of the 23-year-old activist from Olympia, Wash., who was crushed by an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) bulldozer in Gaza in 2003, in an attempt to protect a Palestinian house slated to be flattened. In March of 2006, one year after My Name is Rachel Corrie premiered in London, the New York Theater Workshop backed out of its agreement to put on the play, citing the then-current political climate, by which the theater meant Ariel Sharon’s life-threatening illness and the election of Hamas leaders in Palestine. The play’s creator accused the theater of censorship, and it stayed in London for another run. Finally, it moved to New York’s Minetta Lane Theater for six weeks this fall, followed by a two-week extension that ended Dec. 30. The Seattle Reperatory Theatre begins its performance of My Name is Rachel Corrie in March.
Directed by actor Alan Rickman and co-edited by Katharine Viner, the play draws on 184 pages of notes and emails spanning most of Corrie’s life, from childhood through to college to her time spent working with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in conflict-ridden Gaza. Because the play uses Corrie’s own words, and not those of anyone who may disagree with her stance on the conflict, some critics have seen it as inherently political in nature.
But the play is more than a document or record of Corrie’s life and passing. And while My Name is Rachel Corrie is important for its political significance–it draws attention to the plight of Palestinians in their fight against the IDF–its chief merits lie in the fact that it asks, what can an activist, abruptly separated from her cause, teach other activists?
The first half of the play depicts Corrie’s life in Olympia, including a childhood filled with idealism, her activist work as a college student, and her ultimate decision to go to the Middle East. Corrie’s character appears to be smart and inventive. She exhibits the musings of a self-reflective, socially conscience student with a growing awareness of injustice outside of her community. In the second half, Corrie mostly reflects, in her journal and through email, on her experiences in Palestine, including conversations with Palestinians, interactions with Israeli soldiers, and her work with ISM. It closes with the date and place of Corrie’s death, and a video of her as a child speaking on global justice.
Feminist writer Adrienne Rich asks, “Isn’t there a difficulty of saying ‘we?’ You cannot speak for me. I cannot speak for us.” Corrie confronts the same issues that many activists do. “The scariest thing,” Corrie writes, “for non-Jewish Americans in talking about Palestinian self-determination is the fear of being or sounding anti-Semitic.” The more immediate question, self-determinism aside, is that many young activists believe that Palestinians are locked in an unequal battle with Israelis, and this, combined with the demolition of Palestinian homes is an injustice. How does the activist, in this case, stop this injustice without alienating those who disagree with them. Furthermore, Corrie’s writing asks, how should one speak out in communities other than their own, without seeming moralist, presumptuous, and self-aggrandizing?