* “Politics makes artists stupid”
* “Corrie, like so many idealists, treated her emotions as facts”
* “Rickman himself ought to know better”
* “I heard one man choking back sobs and another snoring”
1. “My name is Rachel Corrie” opens in New York
2. “An ill-crafted piece of goopy give-peace-a-chance agitprop”
3. “One man choking back sobs and another snoring”
4. “No attempt to analyze both sides of the situation”
5. North Korea and Rachel Corrie
6. She was no Anne Frank
7. “Bulldozed by naivete” (By Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 21, 2006)
8. “Notes from a young idealist in a world gone awry” (NY Times, Oct. 16, 2006)
9. “Review: ‘Rachel Corrie’ an uneven work” (Associated Press, Oct. 15, 2006)
10. “My name is Rachel Corrie: Off-stage drama” (Broadway World, Oct. 15, 2006)
“WARMLY RECEIVED WITHOUT SETTING OFF POLEMICAL FIREWORKS”
Notes from a young idealist in a world gone awry
By Ben Brantley
The New York Times
October 16, 2006
Few plays have traveled to New York with as much excess baggage as “My Name Is Rachel Corrie,” which opened last night at the Minetta Lane Theater. This small, intense one-woman drama, first staged last year at the Royal Court Theater in London, makes its delayed American debut freighted with months of angry public argument, condemnation, celebration and prejudgment: all the heavy threads that make up the mantle of a cause cיlטbre.
So how does it stand on its own, this quiet, 90-minute work that has been preceded by so much noise?
Toward the end of the performance I attended, I heard one man choking back sobs and another snoring. I could sympathize with both responses.
I doubt that either was inspired by the sort of partisan politics that have made the play a topic of such bruising debate in New York. Edited by the British actor Alan Rickman and the journalist Katharine Viner, “My Name Is Rachel Corrie” is assembled from journal entries and e-mail messages written by its title character, a 23-year-old American who was killed in March 2003 by an Israeli Army bulldozer while protesting the razing of a house in the Gaza Strip.
In its initial London run, the play which starred the American actress Megan Dodds, who repeats her performance here was warmly received without setting off polemical fireworks. Those didn’t erupt until the New York Theater Workshop, a nonprofit institution known for championing politically daring work, announced in late February that it would indefinitely delay the play’s American premiere.
Given Ms. Corrie’s lightning-rod status as a pro-Palestinian activist she has been held up as both a heroic martyr (by Yasir Arafat, among others) and a terminally naןve pawn the New York Theater Workshop drew accusations of moral cowardice. Theater artists including Vanessa Redgrave, Harold Pinter and the American playwrights Tony Kushner and Christopher Shinn joined the fray. Rachel Corrie became a name best not mentioned at Manhattan dinner parties if you wanted your guests to hold on to their good manners.
Now that the Royal Court production of “My Name Is Rachel Corrie” has finally arrived in Manhattan, under the aegis of James Hammerstein Productions, many theatergoers wonder what all the shouting was about, especially in a town where one-person shows expressing extreme points of view are common theatrical fare.
The play, directed by Mr. Rickman, is not an animated recruiting poster for Palestinian activists. Its deeper fascination lies in its invigoratingly detailed portrait of a passionate political idealist in search of a constructive outlet. And its inevitable sentimental power is in its presentation of a blazing young life that you realize is on the verge of being snuffed out. (I kept thinking of the letters from Julian Bell, Virginia Woolf’s nephew, who was killed in the Spanish Civil War.)
The play’s most obvious hold on the audience’s attention comes from its being structured as a sort of countdown to a tragic death. The very look of the stage at the beginning in which Rachel’s bedroom in Olympia, Wash., seems to float against a ravaged Middle Eastern townscape presages a journey we know will be fatal.
It is all the more surprising, then, to discover that for long stretches “Rachel Corrie” feels dramatically flat, even listless. This is not the fault of the text. From earliest adolescence, Ms. Corrie, who wanted to be a poet, had a voice that was unusually and emphatically her own, and a precocious gift for concrete metaphors that give form to nebulous feelings.
To read what she wrote in the last decade of her short life, as assembled by Mr. Rickman and Ms. Viner, is to perceive sometimes eerie patterns of recurring images, with that sense afforded only by hindsight of how each human existence seems to possess its own poetic structure.
From the opening scene, in which Rachel says living in her room in Olympia is like being “inside a terrifying mirror,” an aura of claustrophobia and confinement prevails that must be overcome. The description of a dream of “falling to my death off of something dusty and smooth and crumbling like the cliffs in Utah,” recorded shortly after she arrived in Gaza in early 2003, acquires a harrowingly prophetic echo. And throughout there is an awareness, uncommon in the young, of how easily a life can be erased.
The production does not belabor the ominous here, and it doesn’t need to. Nor, when Rachel gives voice to her increasingly firm convictions about the Middle East conflict (“What we are paying for here is truly evil”), does Ms. Dodds ever seem to be orating from a platform, bullhorn in hand.
Both her performance and Mr. Rickman’s direction emphasize Rachel as a figure of radiant and unsullied youth, given to striking physical poses (head to the sky, arms extended) that bring to mind movie posters about odds-defying mavericks with big dreams. Sometimes, especially when embodying the pre-Gaza Rachel, Ms. Dodds appears to be merely playing young, with all the attendant cuteness.
Though Ms. Corrie had a streak of preciousness (what poetry-loving teenager does not?), there’s nearly always a redeeming grit in her writing and a feeling of energy that could burn. (You sense that fierceness in photographs of the real Ms. Corrie in demonstrations in Gaza.) These textures are mostly absent from Ms. Dodds’s performance. And when Rachel, describing an encounter with a sometime boyfriend, speaks self-mockingly of acting as if she were in a Mountain Dew commercial, it seems like a reasonable assessment of Ms. Dodds’s performance at that point.
Her Rachel is most compelling after she has arrived in Israel, and later Gaza, when her childhood habit of making lists of things to do, of items needed to keep chaos at bay acquires a heartbreaking urgency. No matter what side you come down on politically, Ms. Corrie’s sense of a world gone so awry that it forces her to question her “fundamental belief in the goodness of human nature” is sure to strike sadly familiar chords.
AN UNEVEN WORK
Review: ‘Rachel Corrie’ an uneven work
By Michael Kuchwara
The Associated Press
October 15, 2006
“My Name Is Rachel Corrie” is theatrically and politically earnest, an uneven scrapbook drama about an idealistic, some might say naive, young woman trying to do good against the backdrop of the swirling, seemingly insolvable Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The play, which opened Sunday at off-Broadway’s Minetta Lane Theater, has arrived here with considerable non-theatrical baggage. Amid charges of censorship, a production planned for last spring by New York Theater Workshop never happened. It subsequently was picked up for a limited run this fall by other producers.
You can’t say “Rachel Corrie” doesn’t have a point of view, despite the scattered dramatic trajectory of the evening. “I’ve had this underlying need to go to a place and meet people who are on the other end of the tax money that goes to fund the U.S. military,” Corrie says near the beginning of the 95-minute solo show.
The play, a hit for London’s Royal Court Theater, was put together by British actor Alan Rickman (who also directs this production), and Katherine Viner, features editor of The Guardian newspaper in London. They drew on the diaries, letters and e-mails of Corrie, a 23-year-old activist from Olympia, Wash., who died when struck by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza in March 2003 while trying to prevent Israelis from demolishing a Palestinian home. She had gone to the Middle East with the International Solidarity Movement.
The play briefly deals with Corrie’s thoughts on the Israelis. With a nod toward the suffering and oppression of Jewish people, she says, “We still have some responsibility for that, but I think it’s important to draw a firm distinction between the policies of Israel as a state, and Jewish people.”
Yet the heart of the play is about the Palestinians, and its best moments are nonpolitical: Corrie’s descriptions, for example, of living in Gaza, her journalistic impressions of ordinary Palestinians and their families.
To get to Gaza, the authors take us through Corrie growing up in Olympia, giving us the story of an imaginative, maybe precocious girl who writes in her notebook that among the people she would like to hang out with in eternity are Rainer Maria Rilke, Jesus, Gertrude Stein, Zelda Fitzgerald and Charlie Chaplin.
It’s these moments that strain dramatically, taxing actress Megan Dodds to the fullest. Dodds, with her wholesome blond good looks, never quite connects with the character as a little girl. She gives a distant, oddly detached performance that seems more like an acting exercise than a portrait of a passionate young woman.
That passion comes through most forcefully late in the evening, in a raging e-mail Corrie types about the consequences of doing nothing.
“It is my own selfishness and will to optimism that wants to believe that even people with a great deal of privilege don’t just idly sit by and watch,” she writes.
Rachel Corrie refused to just watch.
“LACKLUSTER, ULTIMATELY HEAVY-HANDED AND ONE-SIDED”
My name is Rachel Corrie: Off-stage drama
By Michael Dale
October 15, 2006
Please note: In reviewing My Name Is Rachel Corrie, I found it necessary to describe the final moments of the play in the last few paragraphs.
After all the controversy, the accusations of censorship and the petitions and letters of protest, Britain’s Royal Court Theater production of My Name Is Rachel Corrie has finally made it to New York. Sadly, the off-stage drama far exceeds anything taking place on stage at the Minetta Lane Theater. Journalist Katherine Viner and actor/director Alan Rickman have assembled the solo performance piece from the diaries, emails and letters of the 23-year-old American who was killed in March of 2003 by an Israeli military bulldozer while trying to prevent the destruction of a Palestinian home in Gaza. Viner and Rickman may have put their hearts and souls into this work, but what they didn’t put into it is dramaturgy. The story of Rachel Corrie may be an important one. Her words may deserve to be heard. But this lackluster and ultimately heavy-handed and one-sided presentation is not the way to do it.
According to published reports earlier this year, James Nicola, the artistic director of the New York Theater Workshop, said his company was considering staging the play’s New York premiere in March, but it was never formally announced as definite. Explaining his reasons for postponing the production, Nicola wrote, “In researching My Name Is Rachel Corrie, we found many distorted accounts of the actual circumstances of Rachel’s death that had resulted in a highly charged, vituperative, and passionate controversy. While our commitment to the play did not waver, our responsibility was not just to produce it, but to produce it in such a way as to prevent false and tangential back-and-forth arguments from interfering with Rachel’s voice. We spoke to friends and colleagues in the artistic community and to religious leaders as well as to representatives of the Jewish community, because the play involved Israeli action.”
Released statements quoted Rickman as saying, “I can only guess at the pressures of funding an independent theater company in New York, but calling this production ‘postponed’ does not disguise the fact that it has been cancelled This is censorship born out of fear, and the New York Theater Workshop, the Royal Court, New York audiences all of us are the losers.”
My own feelings about censorship, the artistic decisions of a theater company and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict are, of course, irrelevant here. Those with strong opinions on these issues may certainly have highly emotional and passionate reactions to My Name Is Rachel Corrie, but what follows is a critique on how it stands on its own as a work of theater.
Call it a heartfelt tribute. Call it a sincere memorial. Call it the writings of a dedicated youth fighting for a cause she believes in. But My Name Is Rachel Corrie can barely be called a play. With all due respect to the deceased, her writings, as presented in this edited ninety-minute form, reveal no more of a character than the stereotypical bright, idealistic youth with big dreams:
“Okay, I’m Rachel. Sometimes I wear ripped blue jeans. Sometimes I wear polyester. Sometimes I take off all my clothes and swim naked at the beach. I don’t believe in fate but my astrological sign is Aries, the ram, and my sign on the Chinese zodiac is the sheep, and the name Rachel means sheep but I’ve got a fire in my belly. It used to be such a big, loud blazing fire that I couldn’t hear anybody else over it. So I talked a lot and didn’t listen too much.”
As a fifth grader in Olympia, Washington, when asked to write what she wanted to be when she grew up, Rachel delivered a “five-paragraph manifesto on the million things I wanted to be, from wandering poet to first woman president.” Her lists of “Five People I Wish I’d Met Who Are Dead” and “Five People To Hang Out With In Eternity” are the kinds of things that may be fun to read on a friend’s blog but hardly contribute to an evening of compelling theater.
As a member of the International Solidarity Movement, an organization which is never mentioned by name in the script, Corrie and other Americans and Europeans acted as human shields to help protect Palestinians living in Gaza from the Israeli military; the logic being that an unarmed American in peaceful protest is a dangerous target to eliminate. Though she separates the policies of Israel as a state with the Jewish people as a whole, her descriptions of the conflict, told through correspondence, are a one-sided account of atrocities committed by one people upon another. The piece fails dramatically because the text doesn’t provide basic information about her mission and there is no attempt to analyze both sides of the situation. It’s never mentioned that the Israeli government was bulldozing down certain homes because they were suspected of hiding tunnels used to supply arms to Palestinian terrorists. She goes as a far as writing, “The vast majority of Palestinians right now, as far as I can tell, are engaging in Gandhian non-violent resistance.”
Megan Dodds, who plays Rachel Corrie during evening performances (Bree Elrod plays the role during matinees), gets little support from Rickman’s direction in trying to create an interesting human being from this patched together text. She spends a lot of time standing center stage, speaking out to the audience with little vitality or vocal variety. She also spends a good deal of time sitting upstage behind a computer, typing emails which she narrates in a monotone I-am-typing-an-email voice.
And yet there’s a ten-minute stretch near the end of the evening where My Name Is Rachel Corrie miraculously begins to resemble good theater. In a long letter home to her mother, her language suddenly turns eloquent and mature as Corrie writes of “questioning my fundamental belief in the goodness of human nature.” She writes passionately and provocatively of the world’s growing class imbalance and of the rights of those to defend their very chance for a decent survival. If the purpose of My Name Is Rachel Corrie is to humanize a name in a news story, this monologue, sensitively performed by Dodds, is the only instance where it works.
What follows, we’re told, is a recorded transcript of an eyewitness account of Corrie’s death as described by someone named Tom Dale. He tells of a brutal and intentional murder. What we’re not told is that Tom Dale was a colleague of Corrie’s and that the two of them, along with others, had been spending two hours monitoring and obstructing two bulldozers. And though Dale’s description may very well have been accurate and unbiased, there is no mention made that other eyewitness accounts conflict with his report.
The final image we see, on a video monitor, is of a ten year old Rachel Corrie speaking at her fifth grade press conference on world hunger. The moment seems a shameless attempt to send the audience out weeping.
Maybe in the hands of a better dramatist the words of Rachel Corrie could have made powerful theater. But perhaps it would be best to simply read what she wrote, unedited, without involving the interpretations of creative artists.