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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 people.

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 untimely death.

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 cut short.


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