A Singular Voice
By Terry Stoller
With the decision by the New York Theatre
Workshop to cancel My Name Is Rachel Corrie, New York
audiences, at least for now, won't be able to see the Royal Court's
production. It has had two successful runs in London and earned
critical acclaim for Megan Dodds's portrayal of the young activist
and Alan Rickman's direction of the one-woman verbatim piece.
I'll let others attack the New York Theatre Workshop for its decision,
reportedly based on advice by anonymous Jewish "leaders" and the
current political climate in the Middle East. Instead I'd like
to talk about the play, which I've not seen but have read, and
whose point of view is somewhat troubling to me, especially because
of the assumption of truth in plays that use the words of real
A devotee of verbatim theatre, I prefer
verbatim plays that are balanced, exploring all sides of a situation
and including a multitude of voices. As the title of this play
suggests, however, it represents a single voice. Rachel is a young,
aspiring writer from Washington State. Keenly aware of the world
outside Olympia and eager to help the disenfranchised, she takes
a break from college to work with the International Solidarity
Movement, traveling to Gaza in 2003 to aid the Palestinians. The
play, edited by Alan Rickman and journalist Katharine Viner from
Rachel's journals and e-mails, clearly makes a plea for the Palestinians'
cause. Rachel early on warns her mother not to use the word "terrorism"
and to resist "perpetuating the idea that the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict is a balanced conflict, instead of a largely unarmed
people against the fourth most powerful military in the world."
After she has been in Gaza for less than two months, she deflects
her mother's concerns about Palestinian violence, by belittling
the effects of "homemade explosives" and arguing that there can
be no justification for Israel's actions. Earlier, however, she
admits that because she is new to talking about the Palestinian-Israeli
situation, she doesn't always know the political implications
of her words. The play ends with a statement that the 23-year-old
was killed by an Israeli bulldozer, followed by an epilogue: the
10-year-old Rachel's speech about the need to end world hunger.
The production uses a videotape of the real Rachel Corrie, the
effect of which must be heartbreaking in light of the young woman's
Program notes giving historical context
might provide some balance. But presumably people will use their
intelligence to try to understand the complexities of the Israeli/Palestinian
conflict. More than one London critic pointed skeptically to Rachel's
claim that the vast majority of Palestinians practiced "Gandhian
non-violent resistance." Thoughtful audiences will surely know
that this is an area of the world in which everything is contested,
including whether there was a network of tunnels under the houses
for smuggling weaponry into Rafah, where Rachel was trying to
stop the Israeli bulldozing of the Palestinian homes.
I hope a New York theatre will soon mount
the Royal Court's production. The Culture Project, which has been
home recently to verbatim plays (The Exonerated, Guantánamo:
‘Honor Bound to Defend Freedom'), would be a wonderful choice.
While I'm not willing to idealize Rachel Corrie, I strongly believe
in the value of firsthand accounts of history. And I'd appreciate
the opportunity to hear the account of this young woman who, like
many other young people in war zones, had her life tragically