In a journal entry, composed well before Rachel Corrie ever went to the Gaza Strip, she wrote, “if you are concerned with the logic and sequence of things and the crescendo of suspense up to a good shocker of an ending, you’d best be getting back to your video games and your amassing wealth.” But peace activist Rachel Corrie did meet a “good shocker of an ending”: She was killed by an Israeli Defense Force bulldozer in May 2003. And it’s that shocker that led Alan Rickman and Katherine Viner to comb through Corrie’s journals and emails, crafting My Name Is Rachel Corrie. The play opens with Corrie (the willowy Megan Dodds) musing on her Washington State upbringing, her studies at Evergreen College, and her wakening to activism. The second act finds her working with the International Solidarity Movement in Gaza, culminating in an audio-eyewitness account of her death.
My Name Is Rachel Corrie incited much debate last spring when New York Theatre Workshop announced a delaying of its planned production. Though scheduling concerns, work visas, and conflict with the original producers (the Royal Court Theatre) were eventually cited as causes of the postponement, NYTW artistic director James Nicola stated originally that he had polled Jewish community leaders and discovered “the fantasy that we could present the work of this writer simply as a work of art without appearing to take a position was just that, a fantasy.” With the election of Hamas and the illness of Ariel Sharon, he felt the political moment was inopportune for a work that might be perceived as pro-Palestinian/anti-Israeli.
Nicola ought to have trusted his audience more. Corrie certainly fails to provide a balanced view of the conflict—in her rubric, Israelis are antagonistic, Palestinians cuddly—but it is very much one woman’s view of the situation. This woman, however bright and articulate, is not the most dependable narrator. Self-described as “scattered and deviant and too loud,” she’s the sort of Pacific Northwest creature who can say with perfect conviction, “The salmon talked me in to a lifestyle change.” Killed at 23, she was still only a budding writer and thinker; her emails from the Middle East vacillate, winningly and irritatingly, between the naïve and the astute. So, consequently, does the play, resulting in a slight, though moving theatrical work. However poignant and precocious her juvenilia, it doesn’t substitute for the dramatic arc of a full life.