Theater critics compare Rachel Corrie to Primo Levi and Anne Frank

May 05, 2005

* As Israel commemorates Holocaust Remembrance Day today, theater critics suggest Rachel Corrie should be compared with Primo Levi and Anne Frank.

* Following its critical acclaim, "What's on Stage" magazine reported yesterday that "My Name Is Rachel Corrie" will return to a larger London theatre in the fall, premiering October 11.

 

This is an update to a number of previous dispatches on this list including:

* Anti-Israel propaganda sells out on London stage (April 27, 2005)
* My Name is Rachel Corrie, Levy, Thaler, Levi, Gavish, Charhi, Shabo (April 14, 2005)
* Alan Rickman, Rachel Corrie, David Irving, and Robert Fisk (December 7, 2004)

 

CONTENTS

1. "Dachau liberation commemorated" (The Age, Australia, May 2, 2005)
2. "My Name is Rachel Corrie" (BA Magazine, April 2005)
3. "Heroine of the Palestinian struggle" (The Daily Nation, Kenya, April 14, 2003)
4. "My Name is Rachel Corrie" (British Theatre Guide, 2005)
5. "Primo" (British Theatre Guide, 2004)
6. "London plays engender both solidarity and controversy" (Daily Star, Lebanon, April 28, 2005)
7. "Going Out in London: Two Dramas Bring Mideast Politics to Life" (Bloomberg wire service, April 26, 2005)

 



[All notes by Tom Gross]

HOLOCAUST REVISIONISM

Further reviews of the play "My Name is Rachel Corrie" have been published since the last dispatch on this subject. Some ignorant critics have engaged in de facto Holocaust revisionism by comparing Rachel Corrie (an adult political activist who died in an accident) with Anne Frank (a schoolgirl murdered in Belsen) and Primo Levi (a survivor of Auschwitz, a truly great writer, and one of the twentieth century's most important witnesses.)

Today marks Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel. This week also witnessed the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Dachau, and I include an article about that as a reminder of what the Holocaust actually was.

ANNE FRANK

Those searching for reviews of "My Name is Rachel Corrie" on Google will find near the top – and placed more prominently than many reviews from established newspapers – a review in "BA magazine." The review (attached below) compares the Rachel Corrie Play to the diary of Anne Frank. (This is a magazine which "aims to provide information, advice, features, and fun for students, parents and teachers.")

In case anyone needs reminding, Anne Frank was a German-Jewish teenager forced into hiding. She spent 25 months in a tiny annex above an office in Amsterdam, before being betrayed to the Nazis. Nine months later she died of disease and starvation in Bergen Belsen concentration camp. (As detailed recently on this list, the horrors of Belsen were so great that BBC directors in London refused to broadcast a report from correspondent Richard Dimbleby for four days following the liberation of the camp, because they simply could not believe the full horror of what he had witnessed.)

Anne Frank's diary, written during her time in hiding, was first published in 1947. Today it has been translated into 67 languages and is one of the most widely read books in the world. The Kenyan newspaper the Daily Nation has also compared Corrie to Anne Frank.

PRIMO LEVI

The review of the Corrie play in "The British Theatre Guide," written by Philip Fisher, compares it to a play last year by Sir Anthony Sher, which recounted Primo Levi's time in Auschwitz, and was based on Levi's book "If This is a Man." (That book was published in the US under the title "Survival in Auschwitz.")

Primo Levi, an Italian-Jewish chemist, was deported to Auschwitz in 1944. His powerful memoirs of the death camp are regarded by some critics as the "most important book of the twentieth century."

To suggest that Rachel Corrie's situation bears any resemblance to the experiences of Anne Frank and Primo Levi is not only grotesque. It is also insulting since both Frank and Levi were accomplished writers while the Corrie play is based on her often rambling, political emails. (Fisher also compares Corrie to George Orwell.)

FROM LONDON TO LEBANON

Also attached below are two more reviews of "My Name Is Rachel Corrie" from the Daily Star (Lebanon) and a mixed review from the Bloomberg wire service. The Daily Star, employing its own brand of revisionism, compares the youth in London going to the play with "the young activists in Lebanon still camped out in Beirut's symbolic Martyrs' Square."

"My Name Is Rachel Corrie" continues to receive coverage all over the world, far outstripping the interest a new play in London usually generates. For example, a discussion forum in the Czech capital Prague (prague.tv/forum/viewpost.php?id=3723) also contains comparisons between Corrie and Anne Frank. The power and freedom of the Internet means malicious historical revisionism can spread quickly around the world, in this case from a theater in London to the rest of Europe, and to the Middle East.

NAZI SYMPATHIZER NOMINATES CORRIE FOR NOBEL PRIZE

Revisionist "historian" David Irving has nominated Rachel Corrie for the Nobel Peace Prize on his website. The link has been widely circulated on the Internet.

BULLDOZING PALESTINIAN HOMES

Last Monday (May 2, 2005), three two-story Palestinian homes were destroyed by a bulldozer in Gaza – this time on the orders of Mohammed Abbas's Palestinian Authority. (The homes belonged to three Palestinian military officers whom the P.A. says illegally took public land for their homes.)

The bulldozer was guarded by seven jeeps and 30 Palestinian officers. The International Solidarity movement (to which Corrie belonged), made no attempt to prevent the bulldozer razing these structures. One house was surrounded by a small flower garden, which was also destroyed. Abbas has ordered the destruction of hundreds more illegal shops, cafes, kiosks and homes in Gaza.

"This is a good start. The demolitions sent an important message to Palestinians that corruption will no longer be tolerated," said Ghadeer Omari, a Palestinian human rights activist.

(See the Associated Press report from Gaza City titled "Palestinians demolish officials' illegal homes in law-order move" www.cbc.ca/cp/world/050502/w0502112.html.)

I attach seven articles with brief summaries first for those who don't have time to read them in full.

-- Tom Gross

 

SUMMARIES

PILES OF CORPSES LAY IN CATTLE TRUCKS IN DACHAU

"Nazi camp in Dachau liberation commemorated" (AFP / The Age, Australia, May 2, 2005)

More than 1,000 survivors of the Nazi concentration camp Dachau marked the 60th anniversary of their liberation today with US army veterans who threw open the gates... In 1945 US soldiers arrived at the Dachau camp north-west of Munich to find a scene of horror. Piles of corpses lay in cattle trucks while starving prisoners were almost too weak to acknowledge their salvation.

 

LIKE "THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK"

"My Name is Rachel Corrie" (Review by "RW", BA Magazine)

A young American woman ends up standing between an Israeli bulldozer and a Palestinian home... Like "The Diary of Anne Frank", this piece has problems as the text was not written to engage or entertain an audience, but was a private correspondence…

 

HEROINE OF THE PALESTINIAN STRUGGLE

"Heroine of the Palestinian struggle" (By Betty Caplan, The Daily Nation, Kenya, April 14, 2003)

... Anne Frank was 13 when she and her family were forced to escape the Nazis in Amsterdam in 1941 because they were Jewish. The diary she was given as a birthday present sustained her for the following two years while they were crowded into a few rooms with strangers behind a false bookcase in one of those tall, narrow buildings that still face the city's many canals...

Similarly, Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old American, was a fairly normal young woman – one of many who have travelled to dangerous places because they wanted to show their anger, and to convince the world that what was being done in Palestine and Iraq was not in their name…

Rachel's death will, like Anne Frank's, serve as a reminder... Rachel wrote to her family regularly from the Gaza Strip, and like Anne Frank, seemed to have a premonition of her own death...

 

"MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE" – REVIEW BY PHILIP FISHER

"My Name is Rachel Corrie" (Review by Philip Fisher, British Theatre Guide, 2005)

Rachel Corrie was an apple-cheeked All-American girl, brought up in Washington State... Like Sir Antony Sher's Primo, My Name is Rachel Corrie is a remarkably moving 90-minute solo piece about human dignity and suffering. Rachel Corrie was little more than a girl and while she could be naive, she also had a saintly aspect, meeting death with the beatific happiness of a martyr...

 

"PRIMO" – REVIEW BY PHILIP FISHER

"Primo" (Review by Philip Fisher, British Theatre Guide, 2004)

[Extract only on this email]

This slice of autobiography tells the tale of the year spent by a young Italian chemist Primo Levi in Auschwitz... The book should be compulsory reading, and the play a requirement for every teenager, as a lesson on the horrors of the Holocaust and as a warning as to what can happen in apparently civilised societies...

 

THIS MAY WELL BE CORRIE'S GREATEST LEGACY

"London plays engender both solidarity and controversy" (By Ramsay Short, Daily Star staff, Daily Star, Lebanon, April 28, 2005)

... But, more importantly, the buyers of those tickets have been one of the youngest audiences the theater can recall. It is this that may well be Corrie's greatest legacy. Thanks to the writing, editing and producing of actor Alan Rickman and Guardian Weekend magazine editor Katherine Viner, Corrie, through her touching and eloquent writings, has become an aspirational figure for the U.K.'s young people - people who are not generally considered highly involved in international politics and who are relatively apathetic when it comes to world issues...

 

TWO DRAMAS BRING MIDEAST POLITICS TO LIFE

"Going Out in London: Two Dramas Bring Mideast Politics to Life" (Bloomberg, April 26, 2005)

... Yet throughout the 90-minute presentation, we watch her ever-increasing pro-Palestinian position. The play is admirably faithful to her vision. By presenting only one perspective, however, it never gives voice to an Israeli position. That, for some, will be a stumbling block...

 



FULL ARTICLES

NAZI CAMP IN DACHAU LIBERATION COMMEMORATED

Nazi camp in Dachau liberation commemorated
The Age (AFP)
May 2, 2005

www.theage.com.au/news/World/Nazi-camp-in-Dachau-liberation-commemorated/2005/05/02/1114886257060.html

More than 1,000 survivors of the Nazi concentration camp Dachau marked the 60th anniversary of their liberation today with US army veterans who threw open the gates.

"This ceremony inevitably stirs up deep emotions in the former prisoners," General Andre Delpech, a French Dachau survivor, told the assembled guests gathered at the former camp under bright spring sunshine.

He said today's commemoration would be the last for many of the aging survivors, who he said had attended "so that this memory would not be forgotten or lost to indifference".

The Archbishop of the Bavarian state capital Munich, Cardinal Friedrich Wetter, said that "human dignity had been trampled underfoot" at Dachau, which was built in 1933 - the year Adolf Hitler rose to power.

On April 29, 1945 - nine days before the German surrender in World War II - US soldiers arrived at the Dachau camp north-west of Munich to find a scene of horror.

Piles of corpses lay in cattle trucks while starving prisoners were almost too weak to acknowledge their salvation.

Between 1933 and 1945, more than 200,000 people from 38 countries and across the religious and political spectrum were held by the Nazis under appalling conditions. At least 30,000 people were killed, starved or died of disease.

Today's ceremony was marred by complaints by a German Jewish group that it was held on the Jewish holiday Passover.

Jewish law prohibits driving, riding in a car or leaving one's town on the holiday, which ends at sunset today, meaning that several survivors were unable to attend.

A national memorial to the six million Jewish victims of the Nazis is due to open in central Berlin on May 10, two days after the 60th anniversary of Germany's capitulation.

 

WHAT COST A CAUSE?

What cost a cause?
BA Magazine
Theatre Reviews
My Name is Rachel Corrie
Royal Court Theatre (Jerwood Theatre Upstairs)
London, England

www.ba-education.demon.co.uk/for/entertainment/rctl/mynameisrachelcorrie.html

A young American woman ends up standing between an Israeli bulldozer and a Palestinian home. This is a non-fiction play, Rachel Corrie was a real woman whose horrific death occurred on March 16th 2003. The text itself is no playwright's invention, it comes from Rachel's own emails and journal entries, edited by Alan Rickman and Katherine Viner.

Like "The Diary of Anne Frank", this piece has problems as the text was not written to engage or entertain an audience, but was a private correspondence. The production therefore has its slower moments, particularly the first half which comes from her diary entries before she went to Palestine. These ruminations about American college life give an endearing portrait of Rachel Corrie the young woman as opposed to Rachel Corrie the international campaigner, but they aren't terribly absorbing. Rickman and Viner could have edited these entries a little more. It gets a lot more interesting once she is actually in Palestine, reporting the shocking events around her.

Megan Dodds courageously carries this one-woman show. She would have benefited from a little more guidance from Rickman (who also directed it) in terms of varying her vocal tone and pitch. If a play consists of an hour and a half of one person speaking, then it is important that they modulate their speech patterns so that it doesn't get tedious. Alan Rickman is a far better actor than he is a director. Despite this, the Rachel Corrie that Dodds presents to the audience is three-dimensional and engaging, a woman with a strong sense of humour and an even stronger sense of injustice. I doubt if anyone in the audience ever met the real Rachel Corrie, but we all left the theatre feeling like we had.

This play tells an amazing story about a modern day martyr that is all the more astonishing because it is true. © RW

Support your local theatres and see a live show.

 

HEROINE OF THE PALESTINIAN STRUGGLE

Heroine of the Palestinian struggle
By Betty Caplan
The Daily Nation - Kenya
April 14, 2003

www.palestinemonitor.org/Activism/Heroine_of_the_Palestinian_struggle.htm

There is something special about diaries written in times of war or in prisons: they serve to give us the feeling of the day-to-day humdrum existence that history tends to overlook.

Anne Frank was 13 when she and her family were forced to escape the Nazis in Amsterdam in 1941 because they were Jewish. The diary she was given as a birthday present sustained her for the following two years while they were crowded into a few rooms with strangers behind a false bookcase in one of those tall, narrow buildings that still face the city's many canals.

To this day, no-one knows for sure who betrayed the inhabitants to the Germans, but Otto Frank, Anne's father (the only one of the family to survive the death camp at Auschwitz) salvaged his daughter's diary which has since become the most enduring record of its time. Her gaunt face has become instantly recognisable to millions who have read her book or seen the many plays and films based on it. She might have become an ordinary person had fate not struck her a tragic blow which ended up making her immortal.

Similarly, Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old American, was, until last month, a fairly normal young woman – one of many who have travelled to dangerous places because they wanted to show their anger, and to convince the world that what was being done in Palestine and Iraq was not in their name.

She died on March 16 when an Israeli army bulldozer flattened her in what witnesses described as a deliberate killing. She was one of eight foreign volunteers – four from the US and four from Britain – who were with the International Solidarity Movement seeking to block house demolitions in the Gaza Strip's Rafah refugee camp, one of the most desperate places on earth.

The Israelis said that the activists had been warned. Earlier, a tank protecting a bulldozer had tried to drive protesters away with warning shots and teargas, but according to Chris McGreal and Duncan Campbell (The Guardian, March 17) "there had been no trouble immediately before Ms Corrie was crushed."

A fellow activist who witnessed the event said: "The driver cannot have failed to see her. As the blade pushed the pile, the earth rose up. Rachel slid down the pile. It looks as if she got her foot caught. The driver didn't slow down; he just ran over her. Then he reversed the bulldozer back over her again."

Does a bulldozer need more protection than a vulnerable young woman? There is a hidden irony in all this: the Nazis also used bulldozers to churn over the remains of the people for whom they thought they had found the Final Solution.

Because our TV screens are currently filled with images of Iraq, other, equally vital stories have been moved to the sidelines, but the daily toll of murdered Palestinians has not ceased despite Sharon's promises that peace talks would begin in earnest once they behaved themselves.

On March 20, The Guardian published a letter from 50 British MPs pointing out that the bombing in Haifa was "a savage ending of two months in which there have been no suicide bombings within Israel."

In that period Israel killed more than 154 Palestinians. "Why did Ariel Sharon and the international community miss this opportunity to restart the peace process?" they asked. Because they have never meant it seriously is the answer one must draw.

Rachel's death will, like Anne Frank's, serve as a reminder that the Middle East problem won't be solved until there is a proper settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. Although many deaths go unnoticed in that troubled region, every so often it takes one story to arrest the public's imagination and move things out of their stale rut.

Rachel wrote to her family regularly from the Gaza Strip, and like Anne Frank, seemed to have a premonition of her own death. She wrote with insight and understanding: "Disbelief and horror is what I feel. Disappointment. I am disappointed that this is the base reality of our world, and that we, in fact participate in it. This is not at all what I asked for when I came into this world."

She didn't try to hide the truth from herself or her mother; she knew that she would have nightmares when she returned and feel guilty for leaving the people she had become close to, but she was optimistic: "I can channel that into more work. Coming here is one of the better things I've ever done."

Not everyone felt sympathy for her; one Israeli woman no doubt voiced the feelings of many when she said that it served Rachel right. What business did she have going to another country and poking her nose into its affairs?

If that were true, neither of the Gulf wars would have happened; they were, ostensibly at least, about liberating certain Arab people and ridding them of the tyrant who had oppressed them for so long.

Rachel knew there was a sense of urgency about what she was doing; and that her position was privileged because she could leave any time. She was a born writer because she wanted to know things intimately, at first hand. For her, incomprehensible statistics became living human beings whom she took the trouble to get to know, and whose language she was beginning to master.

She had a keen sense of the duty to use words carefully and responsibly: "I don't like to use those charged words. I think you know this about me. I really value words. I really try to illustrate and let people draw their own conclusions."

She was committed to the work she was doing there, and pitched in with the chores and tasks: "I sleep on the floor next to the youngest daughter, Iman, and we all share blankets."

The large family which had adopted her must have enjoyed her lively sense of humour: "The other day, by the way, Grandmother gave me a pantomimed lecture in Arabic that involved a lot of blowing and pointing to her black shawl. I got Nidal to tell her that my mother would appreciate knowing that someone here was giving me a lecture about smoke turning lungs black."

Her family had asked her about non-violent resistance; her reply was to translate it into the personal: When that explosive detonated yesterday it broke all the windows in the family house–. I'm having a hard time right now. Just feel sick to my stomach a lot from being doted on...., very sweetly, by people who are facing doom.

At 23, and literally "shell-shocked", she wasn't yet in a position to formulate an answer on a grand scale. But in her short life, she achieved what so many idealistic people, young and old, want - to make a difference.

 

MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE – REVIEW BY PHILIP FISHER

My Name is Rachel Corrie
Taken from the writings of Rachel Corrie by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs
Review by Philip Fisher (April 2005)
British Theatre Guide

www.britishtheatreguide.info/reviews/rachelcorrie-rev.htm

Rachel Corrie was an apple-cheeked All-American girl, brought up in Washington State. The only thing that separates her from tens of millions of her peers is a desire to do good and a love for humanity.

Her life is brought to the stage thanks to the efforts of actor Alan Rickman and Guardian journalist Katharine Viner. They have sifted through notebooks and e-mails in order to produce a meaningful example of a genre that has become known as Verbatim Theatre - a reconstruction using the words of protagonists, like Bloody Sunday, currently showing at the Tricycle.

In some ways, My Name is Rachel Corrie is a Twenty-First Century equivalent to George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia. Like Spain in the 1930s, Palestine today has the power to attract Internationalist activists who want to help, regardless of personal risk.

For twenty minutes, we share a Tracey Emin mess of a bedroom (Allen Ginsberg's Howl on the floor speaks volumes) with this idealistic, unworldly college student. Megan Dodds, from TVs Spooks, seduces her audience so that all must be won over by this woman who sums herself up as "scattered and deviant and too loud".

Then, as the bedroom rolls away and designer Hildegard Bechtler introduces a bullet-holed wall, things become more serious as Rachel arrives in Israel/Palestine. Initially, she feels secure and mildly angry.

Soon, as she sees dead bodies and puts herself into the firing line, she achieves real empathy with her hosts and an inner peace. However this is accompanied by a growing rage towards the Israelis who are making the lives of innocent Palestinians hellish. Some might argue that there are Palestinian terrorists around who have caused the latest Intifada but Rachel's rosy view misses this point.

Just as the tension is becoming too great, the editors cleverly bring us back to earth with a brief interlude taking us back to a job that Rachel did as a counsellor to a group of the mentally ill.

After this breather, it is back to the front line and an increasingly despairing young woman who has gone beyond her previous life to become a true Palestinian.

The final moments after Miss Dodds walks off the stage come from a TV screen as we hear an eye-witness account of the 23-year-old's death and then see a clip of her as an amazingly assured activist for peace a full thirteen years before.

Like Sir Antony Sher's Primo, My Name is Rachel Corrie is a remarkably moving 90-minute solo piece about human dignity and suffering. Rachel Corrie was little more than a girl and while she could be naive, she also had a saintly aspect, meeting death with the beatific happiness of a martyr.

This play features a great performance from Megan Dodds and is the kind of theatrical experience that can have a significant political effect. The world should be filled with beautiful idealists like Rachel Corrie. Some may feel that she was misguided but none could doubt her sincerity and commitment.

This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version

 

LONDON PLAYS ENGENDER BOTH SOLIDARITY AND CONTROVERSY

London plays engender both solidarity and controversy

'My Name is Rachel Corrie' inspires youth, 'Twilight of the Gods' provokes debate and Palestinian writer Samir al-Youssef wins prestigious award

By Ramsay Short
Daily Star, Lebanon
April 28, 2005

www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=10&categ_id=4&article_id=14637

Last week The Daily Star published a story about a new play in London based on the writings of the young American activist and member of the International Solidarity Movement, Rachel Corrie. She was tragically run over and killed by an Israeli bulldozer two years ago while protesting the destruction of Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip.

In the time since we previewed "My Name is Rachel Corrie," the Royal Court where the play is showing announced that it sold out all tickets for the 24-performance run in less than two days - a record time in the theater's 50-year history.

But, more importantly, the buyers of those tickets have been one of the youngest audiences the theater can recall.

It is this that may well be Corrie's greatest legacy. Thanks to the writing, editing and producing of actor Alan Rickman and Guardian Weekend magazine editor Katherine Viner, Corrie, through her touching and eloquent writings, has become an aspirational figure for the U.K.'s young people - people who are not generally considered highly involved in international politics and who are relatively apathetic when it comes to world issues.

The way one young woman from Olympia, Washington, stood up against oppression in a far away land, however is now inspiring a new youthful audience to become more political in a depoliticized age - and showing them a peaceful way to do it.

Like the young activists in Lebanon still camped out in Beirut's symbolic Martyrs' Square, who have a discovered a newfound energy in seeing their mass action actually be part of a successful protest in the Arab world (the last Syrian soldier left Lebanon on Tuesday), the youth in London - and perhaps it is not so far to suggest those in the rest of Europe too - are becoming responsive to acting against injustice and protesting for their beliefs. Corrie's tragic death, her letters and diaries published in the British left-wing newspaper The Guardian, and now the Royal Court's play, have proven a catalyst for action if the sell-out run is anything to go by.

The play also indicates to young Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and in the various refugee camps in Middle Eastern states neighboring Israel that a sense of solidarity, when it comes to injustice, does exist.

Rickman, star of numerous movies and stage productions, in a bold move is already looking at taking "My Name is Rachel Corrie" to the U.S. where the 23-year-old's murder has generated much less media coverage.

Corrie herself, as her writings so obviously suggest, was very much an activist who worked for peace and believed in change and justice, in this case for the Palestinians through peaceful means.

The impact of this play is an example of the transforming nature of drama and the power of theater as protest. It also recalls the Lysistrata Project produced in March 2003 to protest the American-led invasion of Iraq. The famous anti-war Athenian drama had performances simultaneously acted or read in over 20 countries around the world, the idea being that no one would be able to ignore such an enormous network of theater artists reading in solidarity for peace.

Although the Lysistrata Project failed to stop the war, it did gain huge support and popularity from people across continents and provides a way for people to become active in promoting peace.

Today it is not only art and theater, especially when it comes to the Palestinian context, which are touching nerves and promoting a wider interest in international issues amongst the young and old alike.

With stronger opportunities for negotiation and recognition of the situation in Israel and the Occupied Territories now than there have been in the last three years, more Palestinian artists are being recognized for their cultural contributions to the world and the situation they live in and operate under, especially those doomed to exile.

In 2004 Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, who currently resides in Ramallah, won the Prince Claus Fund Award for his poetry.

On Wednesday, one of the first Palestinians to win a prize this year was the exiled Palestinian writer, Samir al-Youssef. He was awarded the annual Tucholsky Award by the Swedish chapter of the Pen Club - an independent international organization working for international literary cooperation and freedom of the press.

The prize, established in 1984, honors writers, journalists and publishers who face persecution, threats or indeed exile from their home countries.

Youssef was born in the Rashidia Palestinian refugee camp in Southern Lebanon, in 1965. Since 1990, he has lived in London, where he studied philosophy. As a novelist, he has published four books of fiction, of which "Gaza Blues: Different Stories" (reviewed in The Daily Star earlier this year) is the most recent. He writes in both Arabic and English and is also an essayist with interests ranging from literature, politics, philosophy and cultural studies. "Gaza Blues" is particularly notable in that it is a collaboration of short stories between Youssef and Israeli writer Etgar Keret based on their very different backgrounds and experiences reflecting the reality of living in Israel and in Lebanon during the intifadas. The writing by both, and particularly Youssef, is hard-edged and compelling and is a provocative piece of art in that they both share the belief that their work can and should coexist - as Israelis and Palestinians will have to learn to coexist in peace and the harder point of equality.

A literary study of the Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani is Youssef's next book forthcoming from Biann Press in Beirut.

Previous winners of the Tucholsky prize, which is worth 150,000 kronor ($21.300) and is named for German writer Kurt Tucholsky, who fled to Sweden in the 1930s from Nazi Germany, include the Indian-born author Salman Rushdie and exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin.

Yet there are examples in current theater productions where references to Palestinians in a more provocative sense are also being placed clearly to engender reaction.

In the current and very contemporary production in London of Richard Wagner's "Twilight of the Gods," the culmination of the Ring Cycle by the English National Opera, Brunnhilde, played by Kathleen Broderick, appears as a female suicide bomber on stage prior to blowing herself up along with the cast. The opera itself, which examines Wagner's profound observations on human frailty, is about a cursed ring that sees the character of Hagen murder Brunnhilde's lover Siegfried, which in turn provokes her to kill herself and everyone else. Yet her sacrifice results in a world free of the ring's curse. It is a very dangerous and thought-provoking contemporary reference - does it promote self-sacrifice and the murder of others if the result is positive change? Or does it argue that if you drive someone to despair and the end of all hope that they will react in desperate ways?

Whatever the answer to that question, the suicide bomber reference yet proves how theater can bring to the fore contemporary issues and politics and raise interest in world issues.

Though whether Rachel Corrie knew of the power of her writing to move and provoke is something we will never know.

 

TWO DRAMAS BRING MIDEAST POLITICS TO LIFE

Going Out in London: Two Dramas Bring Mideast Politics to Life
Bloomberg
April 26, 2005

www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=10000102&sid=aRGJTU93.lRY&refer=uk

Lives under political threat form the basis of two absorbing dramas now playing in London.

Frank McGuinness's "Someone Who'll Watch Over Me," is as perfectly crafted and compassionate a play as you could wish for. What's more, its focus on three men taken hostage is, sadly, as pertinent now as at its first appearance in 1992.

The subject matter may sound somber yet the most striking aspects of the play, a hit in London and on Broadway, are its resourceful humor and the profound degree of humanity that rise up from the script. Not one word has been changed for the first West End revival of a play whose simple though effective premise sounds like the beginning of a racist joke: an American, an Irishman and an Englishman are locked up in a cell.

Taken hostage in the Lebanon, these three men are, in turn, a doctor (Jonny Lee Miller), a journalist (Aidan Gillen) and a lecturer who specializes in ancient English (David Threlfall). Their nationalities are far from accidental yet McGuinness uses them as a springboard to questions about home and belonging.

When the Englishman resorts to acting out British heroine Virginia Wade winning the 1997 Wimbledon Ladies Final, it reduces the audience to gales of laughter. It also dramatizes arguments about the nature of identity that a lesser playwright would have presented as unleavened speechifying.

The entire play takes place in their windowless cell. Rather than dwelling on dulling repetitive angst, the true subject matter is hope and human invention. Struggling, sometimes in vain, to beat despair, the men develop their imaginations to an extraordinary degree.

Indeed, the play's great trick is to parallel the imaginative work the characters do with that done by the audience. All three characters mentally lasso each other and us as they create ever more vivid stories, recite touching unsent letters home and act out movies spun from their lives.

Unlike prison dramas from "Midnight Express" to "The Shawshank Redemption," this play eschews sensationalism and the emotional manipulation of showing direct cruelty. The men's captors and guards are completely absent, which paradoxically raises rather than lessens the intensely concentrated threat.

Clearly intent on demarcating the differences between the men, director Dominic Dromgoole has cast three very different actors. What he hasn't done is make their acting styles cohere.

Gillen is nicely edgy but we need to see him listening to the other men and he is too self-absorbed. Threlfall builds an impressively gauche characterization of a nerdy Englishman yet you're so aware of how expertly he maintains the act that much of the pathos is lost. The best performance is from Miller. Expressive even when in silent repose, his is the least showy performance. When he speaks, you hear the play, not the actor.

'My Name Is Rachel Corrie'

Although by no means biographical, McGuinness's play sprang from the case of the abduction and incarceration of Brian Keenan and John McCarthy. By contrast, "My Name Is Rachel Corrie" at the Royal Court Upstairs is autobiography and nothing else.

Rachel Corrie was a 23-year-old American who was killed when she was mowed down by an Israeli bulldozer in Palestine in March 2003. Actor/director Alan Rickman and Guardian journalist Katharine Viner have edited her diary entries and e-mails home to paint a powerfully affecting portrait of young hope.

The earliest text stems from a diary entry written when Corrie was a 12-year-old living in Olympia, Washington. Even at that age her voice is mature and distinctive. The quality of her writing and her passionate vision of the world makes her tragic death all the more potent.

Rubble of Palestine

Rickman's production, unmediated by any other characters or voices, is stripped down yet surprisingly theatrical. Hildegard Bechtler has adapted the 65-seat auditorium to create a long corridor of stage space with Rachel's teenage bedroom at one end and a tree amid the rubble of Palestine at the other with her computer set up against crumbling plaster and a breezeblock wall scattered with bullet holes in between.

Unusually bright and committed to ideas of understanding and peace, Rachel left her studies and went to join other foreign nationals in Gaza to work with the International Solidarity Movement. Her first diary entry there makes the important distinction between the policies of Israel as a state and Jewish people. "There is very strong pressure to conflate the two. I try to ask myself, whose interest does it serve to identify Israeli policy with all Jewish people."

Yet throughout the 90-minute presentation, we watch her ever- increasing pro-Palestinian position. The play is admirably faithful to her vision. By presenting only one perspective, however, it never gives voice to an Israeli position. That, for some, will be a stumbling block.

Youthful Zeal

Megan Dodds is superb as Rachel. Extremely good at capturing the zeal of youth, she is also alive to the wit and warmth of the early part of the diaries. She never resorts to winning easy sympathy by soft-pedaling the earnestness which occasionally surfaces in the writing.

The vigor with which she conveys the arguments about violent versus non-violent resistance in an e-mail to her mother -- her last words -- makes as strong a case as you could imagine.

The dignity of the entire production goes a long way toward making up for a partial view of a crucial political reality.


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.