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Nancy Keefe Rhodes 09/07/09More articles
(Jillian Dailey as Rachel Corrie. Photo courtesy of Simply New Theatre)


If ever a sound evoked the words “jaws of death,” it’s the audio clip that runs at the beginning of Simply New Theatre’s production of “My Name is Rachel Corrie.” Grinding, screeching, utterly implacable, coming from above and thus enormous – the sound of this bulldozer adds a dimension vastly more fearsome than even the graphic photos of Rachel Corrie just after her fatal injuries, photos that are readily available online. Above the stage set at the Bevard Studio last Saturday night – an activist college student’s hopeful, wildly disheveled room, crammed with posters and paste-ups and strewn clothes and even a left-over teddy bear – that sound also embodies the intrusion of life’s harsh realities. In this room, Rachel Corrie (Simply New veteran Jillian Dailey) recounts her life in an extended monologue that’s framed by some guitar and song (Dylan Montrond) and an “eyewitness account” (recited by Chad Healy) that summarizes how her death happened.

On Sunday, March 16, 2003, Corrie, a 23-year-old American college student from Olympia, Washington, was crushed to death by an Israeli Army bulldozer in the city of Rafah. At that time Rafah, which sits next to the border between Egypt and Gaza, had a population of 140,000 and of these 60 per cent were refugees of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Corrie was there because she had volunteered with a Palestinian-led group committed to non-violence, the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), to help prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes. On that day she was defending – with a bull-horn – the home of the Nazrullah family, a doctor and his wife and their three children, in the middle of a block in a residential neighborhood that the Israeli military believed was riddled with underground tunnels used for smuggling arms.

It was after the 9/11 attacks that Corrie focused on US foreign policy and two years later traveled to Israel and Gaza. But from childhood, she was apparently encouraged in her civic inclinations. In the lobby after the performance, a monitor greeted the exiting audience with a video clip of Corrie from the fifth grade – probably 1990 or ‘91 – in which she says, “I’m here for all children. Every day forty thousand people die from hunger and they are mostly children.” Intriguingly, this clearly bright and self-possessed 11-year-old adds that she means to “eradicate world hunger by the year 2000,” a tip-off that she was a young enrollee of The Hunger Project, whose sole aim was create a critical mass of commitment to that end. Eschewing any specific program of action, The Hunger Project sought instead to create the political will necessary to make other existing and as-yet-unforeseen programs effective, preached the “power of context” and used as a tagline and inspiring example John F. Kennedy’s declaration that the US would put “a man on the moon in ten years.”

We might be tempted to chalk Rachel Corrie’s actions up to youthful idealism and the play – I think somewhat missing the mark – encourages this. Even the actor Alan Rickman, who with Katherine Viner edited and shaped Corrie’s letters, emails and journal entries (which her parents released in book form after her death) into this stage play, says as much. In a 2006 television interview at Scotland’s Edinburgh Festival, where “Rachel Corrie” was staged and Rickman’s film “Snowcake” was screened, he commented, “As brave as she is, she’s naïve. What people should relate to is her youth.”

Thus the play is heavy on her adolescence, her foibles and her lack of focus, her tendency to wrap herself up in blankets (we actually meet her emerging from beneath a pile of them), her youthful self-centeredness and moments of irritating know-it-all certainty, her lack of expertise on the Palestinian-Israeli question, to which she says she is “new” and had “not intended.” As she puts it, “I may not realize the political implications of my words.” An excerpt from one of her last letters to her parents shows up as monologue in which she apologizes, “I love you guys – sorry for the diatribe.”

During that interview, Rickman said he’d already had 30 to 40 queries from around the world about staging the play and that these would wait until after the October opening in New York City. We know from hindsight that virulent protests against the play as “one-sided” derailed that opening and have attended many of its stagings. Curiously even attacks on the play have often refused to take Corrie’s political stance and method seriously as either intentional or thought-through, instead framing her as one of the “naïve Westerners used by the ISM as a human shield.” But I wonder whether this Hunger Project recruit grew up with a different arsenal for argument – with empathy and the capacity to be moved, for example, and the language to powerfully share her experience of who and what she encountered in Gaza – “I think the word would be ‘dignity,’” she says at one point. So I have some reservations about the play itself – which, instead of challenging what is ultimately our indulgence toward youthful excess, I suspect misses the core of Rachel’s activism and mistakes it for something more passing.

Not so Jillian Dailey’s performance, which transcends the play’s text. As directed by John Nara, Dailey knocks your socks off.

Simply New Theatre’s production of “My Name is Rachel Corrie” is performed again at 8:00 PM this Saturday, September 12th at John H. Mulroy Civic Center’s Bevard Studio. There is no intermission. Advance sale tickets online at simplynewtheatre.com. Or call 435.2121 or 558.9124 for reservations and group sales. Half-price student tickets with ID 15 minutes before the show. Simply New next presents the Tony Award-winning musical adaptation of James Joyce’s “The Dead” October 17 – 19 and 23 – 25 (Friday/Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 4 PM), and reprises their stunning production of last spring’s “Trumbo” on November 27 and 28. Nancy covers the arts. Reach her at nancykeeferhodes@gmail.com.






EDITED: (09/08/09)
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CATEGORY: Performing Arts
TAGS: Rachel Corrie, Jillian Dailey, John Nara, Simply New Theatre
EDITION: The Eagle


Rating: 2.5/5 (16 votes cast)



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