Too Hot for New York
The show returned last fall to a larger theater at the Royal Court, and sold out again. Most viewers tended to walk off afterward in stunned silence, but some nights the theater became a forum for discussions. Rickman or Viner or Dodds came out to talk about how the show had come about.
The Royal Court got bids from around the world, including a theater in Israel, seeking to stage the production. But the priority was to bring the show to "Rachel's homeland," as Elyse Dodgson, the theater's international director, says. At bottom, Corrie's story feels very American. It is filled with references that surely escaped its English audience--working at Mount Rainier, swimming naked in Puget Sound, drinking Mountain Dew, driving I-5 to California.
The New York Theatre Workshop agreed to stage the show in March 2006. But by January the Royal Court began to sense apprehension on the Workshop's part. "I went to New York to meet them because I didn't feel comfortable about what they were saying," Dodgson says.
The Workshop was evidently spooked. Its artistic director, James Nicola, spoke of having discussions after every performance to "contextualize" the play, of hiring a consultant who had worked with Salman Rushdie to lead these discussions and of hiring Emily Mann, the artistic director of the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey, to prepare a companion piece of testimonies that would include Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism.
"We've had some brilliant discussions, we told them, but the play speaks for itself," Dodgson says. "It is expensive and unnecessary to have that after every single performance. Of course we knew some of the hideous things that were said about Rachel. We took no notice of them. The controversy died when people saw that this was a play about a young woman, an idealist."
Dodgson was further upset when a Workshop marketing staffer, whom she won't name, used the word "mollifying." "It was a very awkward conversation. He said, 'I can't find the right word, but "mollifying" the Jewish community.' It shocked me."
Corrie's connection to the International Solidarity Movement was politically loaded. The ISM is committed to nonviolence, but it works with a broad range of organizations, from Israeli peace activists to Palestinian groups that have supported suicide bombings, which has been seized on by those who want it to get lost.
At the heart of the disagreement was an insistence by supporters of Israel that Corrie's killing be presented in the context of Palestinian terror. And that specifically, the policy of destroying Palestinian homes in Gaza be shown to be aimed at those tunnels--even though the pharmacist's house Corrie was shielding was hundreds of yards from the border and had nothing to do with tunnels. One person close to NYTW, who refused to go on the record, elaborates: "The fact that the Israelis and such were trying to bulldoze these houses was not due to the fact that they were just against the Palestinians, but the underground tunnels, ways to get explosives to this community. By not mentioning it, the play was not as evenhanded as it claims to be." Another anonymous NYTW source said that staffers became worried after reading a fall 2003 Mother Jones profile of Corrie, a much disputed piece that relied heavily on right-wing sources to paint her as a reckless naif.