On bringing a controversial play to a local theater
Our local activist group, Just Peace for Israel/Palestine, discovered in January that a touring production of “My Name is Rachel Corrie” was available. We jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with Willie Repoley, co-founder of the Immediate Theatre Project, to bring this play for a one-night performance, 7:30 p.m. March 2 at N.C. Stage Company in downtown Asheville.
Now we are at work publicizing. Press releases have been sent. Radio interviews are scheduled. Posters are tacked up wherever I find space on a bulletin board. Handing out fliers to friends in Black Mountain, I realize many look at them and then back at me, a bit quizzically.
Sometimes the question is simply asked outright, “Who is Rachel Corrie?”
The one-woman show chronicles the life of the 23-year-old American peace activist who traveled to Gaza in 2003 with the International Solidarity Movement to defend Palestinian homes from demolition. On March 16, 2003, she was fatally crushed beneath a Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer, a vehicle especially built to demolish houses. Rachel Corrie’s death became, and remains, a potent and controversial symbol.
Beyond the symbolism of her death, some ask who is Rachel Corrie in this drama. Over the course of the play, Rachel matures from an insightful young girl listing the millions of things she wants to be when she grows up, to a scattered adolescent immersed in the manic search for self while battling boys and an over-involved mom, to a young woman determined to pursue peace and justice in a place she’s never been for people she’s never met, constantly questioning herself, her country and the world around her, and what it is to be human.
There remain other more potent questions: Isn’t the political heft of the subjects too ponderous, too controversial, to be transmuted by art into a stage-worthy event? Is the play merely a thinly disguised political tract?
“My Name is Rachel Corrie” was first produced in April 2005 in London by the notable British actor Alan Rickman, who with Katherine Viner, editor-in-chief of The Guardian, crafted the script based entirely on Rachel’s writings.
For nearly 11 years “My Name is Rachel Corrie” has been performed in cities across the U.S. and internationally. On the occasion of Rickman’s death early this year, the Jewish online journal Forward published two articles about his role in writing and producing this remarkable play. One focuses on the gratitude expressed by Rachel Corrie’s parents for his work editing Rachel’s writings, and for his friendship. The other notes that although the original Broadway production was canceled for political reasons, and Rickman was himself shunned by those who demonized Rachel Corrie, he pointed out to his critics that when the play finally came to the New York City stage, the producer was Jewish. Moreover, he noted that “there was no shouting” when Palestinian and Jewish spectators participated in the discussion following each performance.
A final question that may be asked is “Why now?” Repoley observes that Just Peace for Israel/Palestine approached Immediate Theatre Project to co-present this drama at a time when the issues of Israeli occupation are rising again to the forefront of global awareness, as the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement picks up steam and the European Union requires goods made illegally in Israeli settlements in occupied territory to be labeled as such, rather than with a “Made in Israel” logo.
“It’s a very, very difficult situation,” acknowledges Repoley, “and I realize that there has been push-back against this play over the years. But I believe that asking hard questions is OK, is necessary, really. The play necessarily tells this complex story from just one very personal perspective. But, as singular as the perspective is, it is an important part of the story.
“And I think that people who come see it will be surprised at how universal and human it is. It’s the story of a girl struggling to figure out who she is, and specifically, who she is in a larger political context. She’s naïve, and humble, and brash, and thoughtful, and just figuring things out. As are we all.”
Ashley Malloy, who stars in the production coming to Asheville, has taken “My Name is Rachel Corrie” to more than 40 cities nationwide, often sponsored by chapters of Jewish Voice for Peace and Students in Palestine. Reviewers have said, “Her energy is electric…transfixing.” After each performance, Ashley offers a “talk-back” session with the audience. The co-presenters, Just Peace for Israel/Palestine and the Immediate Theatre Project, are proud to be offering our community an evening of theatre on March 2 that promises to generate thoughtful excitement and deep feeling. We invite your presence and your responses. Tickets are $12 for students, $18 for adults, available at www.NCStage.org.
Beth Keiser is a member of Just Peace for Israel/Palestine which meets at Black Mountain Presbyterian Church on the second Wednesday of the month, 9:30 a.m.