Saturday, November 17, 2007

My Name is Rachel Corrie bestows honour upon her memory

If her name doesn't ring a bell, the story of her death probably does.

Rachel Corrie was a 23 year old American student and peace activist in March 2003, when she stood in the path of a bulldozer operated by the Israeli Defence Forces, which was bearing down upon the home of a Palestinian family. Although eyewitnesses claim she was in clear view of the bulldozer operator, the massive machine did not stop or veer from its path as it ran over her and crushed her to death.

The circumstances surrounding her death remain in dispute. The home was in the city of Rafah, an area the IDF had designated a security zone, which was thought to contain a number of tunnels built for the purposes of smuggling weapons from Egypt. The official response from the Israeli government was that the driver did not see her.

Others say she was deliberately killed, while trying to protect the home of a Palestinian family from destruction.

Rachel Corrie's death not only made headlines around the world and became a point of solidarity for peace activists, but also generated interest in the life and the writings of this passionate and sensitive soul. The play itself is a one-woman show whose script is an amalgam of snippets taken from her journals and from letters and emails home to her family in Olympia, Washington.

And the play itself has seen its share of controversy. After a highly acclaimed run in London, the show was scheduled to run in New York, when it was indefinitely postponed, with organizers citing fears that it would elicit criticism from Jewish groups. In this country as well, My Name is Rachel Corrie has not dodged controversy. Earlier this year, financial support for a Toronto production was also withdrawn for fear it could provoke a negative reaction for what is interpreted as its pro-Palestinian views.

It is only fitting then, that Sage Theatre, who have never been afraid of tackling controversial subjects, should stage the Canadian debut of this powerful production.
The Sage Theatre production of My Name is Rachel Corrie stars Adrienne Smook, an effervescent and engaging actor, who tackles the 90 minute one-act play with passion and a surprisingly playful sense of humour.

The play is staged in such a way as to distract us from the fact that it is one woman speaking for an hour and a half. The set itself is sparse and minimal; a series of sheer white curtains, upon which video images from Rachel Corrie's life are from time to time projected, flank the three-tiered rotating beam structure. The beam structure serves the purpose of allowing movement within the confines of what could too easily be a talking head production, it acts as a chalkboard or a graffiti wall upon which Rachel scrawls her thoughts, and it conjures up the sense of the supporting structure of a house, a house soon to be demolished by a military bulldozer.

The play takes us through Rachel's comfortable middle-class upbringing, where she
precociously demonstrated the vision and the sensitive soul of a writer and activist, through her rebellious teenage years, and into young adulthood where her budding awareness of the inequities of the world find a platform in her ill-fated trip to the Middle East.

There were a few minor hiccups in Friday night's performance, a few flubbed words here and there, but ultimately less than one would encounter during any 90 minute conversation in real life. Adrienne Smook does an admirable job of capturing the sense of playfulness of Rachel Corrie, which quite surprised and delighted me, in addition to the more expected traits of
determination and passion. She approaches this play as a conversation, and her irreverence and self-deprecation makes for a most compelling chat. When the conversation turns to the more painful and political, it is her personal pain that makes us uncomfortable and makes us question our own actions in this world, not any judgment on her part upon our inaction.

Sage Theatre has staged a very powerful and moving production of this difficult play. It was only fitting that there was a great deal of silence as we left the theatre after experiencing My Name is Rachel Corrie. There was nothing left to say.


Karen said...

I'm ashamed to admit that I've never heard of Rachel Corrie and when I saw this play listed in your side bar, I figured it was going to be some quirky comedy. Kudos to the Sage theatre for not being afraid of various influential groups and chosing to stage this play. Your description of the play, as well as that of Ms. Corrie's life and tragic death, are very stirring and I can only hope that it comes to Edmonton.

668 aka neighbour of the beast said...

i didn't read this because i'm going to see this play when it opens here.

i am excited!

Allison said...

Its interesting to hear that the play was constructed as a conversation. I imagine that really would have had a great impact, and from your review its sound like it did.

On and unrelated note, we have a theatre here called The Sage as well. Fancy that.

BeckEye said...

Sounds like an interesting play. I didn't recognize the name Rachel Corrie either, but I do remember hearing about the incident.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I hope that this plays in Edmonton as well, Karen, but if not, you should really consider coming down to Calgary to see it. I think you would love the tiny intimate theatre in which Sage performs.

I'm glad to hear it is being performed there as well, 668. Will you post a review? I would love to hear your thoughts on the play.

The conversational approach did lend a very immediate and personal aspect to the play, Al, which set precisely the right tone, I think.
Sage is a good name for a theatre company, is it not? Just one letter shy of "stage" and a lovely colour and scent to boot. Plus it's a neutral, which is always easy to live with.

Her name didn't immediately mean anything to me either, Beckeye, but it all came back to me when her death was mentioned. How sad to be remembered for the way you died.

668 aka neighbour of the beast said...

i will try and remember. it's not until the end of january i think.

and then of course, i will have to remember to come back and read your review. :)

Dale said...

Sounds like a very emotional piece of work. Thanks for the excellent review. It's upsetting that a production wouldn't be mounted in this day and age for fear of how it would be perceived. Wouldn't it be a great opportunity for more dialogue?

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

I'v heard of this play but didn't know much about it. I doubt it will ever play here where I love so I'm glad you got to see it and that you wrote about it. Thanks for going and writing so well about this important play.

justacoolcat said...

A 90 minute one-act play? That's quite the demand on attention span. Ggood thing she was "effervescent and engaging".

So did she do the tractor crushing scene?

JustRun said...

This took a minute to come to mind for me. It sounds like the story was transfered very well to the audience.
I wish we had better theatre here.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I will remind you, 668. We can compare notes.

Absolutely, Dale! I was pretty shocked, to tell you the truth, at the power some interest groups have. It's not as though the play is espousing hate or anything. Quite the opposite.

My pleasure, Dr M. I would recommend it, though, if you ever do get a chance to see it.

The 90 minutes passed surprisingly quickly, Just A, and I am not known for having the world's longest attention span. I was wondering how that scene was going to be handled myself. It ocurred off-stage.

You have a few days off for Thanksgiving, Justrun, come on up and see the play. That way you don't need to decide what kind of potato.

mellowlee said...

Wow! I think I want to go see it too. I wonder if there are any books about her, cause I wouldn't mind reading more. I shall check to find out.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Or check the Rachel Corrie Foundation website, Mel. It's bound to be a good resource.