My Name Is Rachel Corrie
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
October 14, 2006
My Name is Rachel Corrie is indeed a tragedy, but not the one I was expecting it to be. Hype and controversy have turned this modest one-woman play into a political cause celebre: apparently at least a few people were afraid that what this play has to say about Israel's recent policies toward Palestinians is incendiary enough to make it unfit for the American stage (which is nonsense, on any number of levels, the most significant being that this play is only incidentally political at all). That said, the play is packaged as a romanticized story of martyrdom (compare the beautiful, fresh face of its star Megan Dodds with that of the real Corrie, here, if you don't believe me); but its actual text fails to support that idea, either.
Instead, My Name is Rachel Corrie is about a girl—and I've selected that term rather than "young woman" very carefully—who wanted to make her life meaningful but mostly didn't know how. That she managed to do so in the end was, the play suggests, more from desperation or chance than committed artful design; and there's the real tragedy of this life—the fact that Rachel, like so many of her generation, was so sadly adrift: not exactly a rebel, but absolutely without a cause, at least until something that felt compelling presented itself.
The play identifies that something: Rachel decides to journey to Gaza with some activist friends to try to help draw attention to the plight of Palestinians. (It's interesting that the group Rachel worked with, the International Solidarity Movement, is never named anywhere in the script, though it is mentioned in the program.) How Rachel became interested in this issue is never explained, apart from a general desire to reach out to the oppressed. Indeed, Rachel is alarmingly fuzzy about her understanding of what she's doing:
I've been organizing in Olympia for a little over a year on anti-war/global justice issues. And it started to feel like this work is missing a connection to the people who are impacted by US foreign policy. I just think we all have the right to be critical of government policies...any government policies, particularly policies which we're funding. I feel pretty isolated from the world because of living in Olympia my whole life and my activism at this point has been extremely tied to Olympia. But I've had this underlying need to go to a place and meet people who are on the other end of the tax money that goes to fund the US military.
Over and over in the play, which is taken from Rachel's own writings (emails, journals, and the like) and edited by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner, there's a sense of this person trying hard to be extraordinarily articulate but just missing the mark, and instead being oh-so-ordinary:
Five People I Wish I'd Met Who Are Dead:
It appears that Rachel really was just an average American kid, and that's why the play has weight, because what she was looking for is probably something that millions of others are looking for as well. The journey from high school/college in Washington State to the center of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is charted compassionately and straightforwardly here: Rickman and Viner give the story a strong dramatic arc that holds our focus even though we know how it ends, and Rickman's staging is brisk and full of variety, thanks to an interesting set by Hildegard Bechtler that's been designed to give the actor playing Rachel lots to do as she moves from Olympia to Gaza. That actor, Megan Dodds, is excellent in the role, showing us the essential innocence and earnestness of the character without pushing too hard to turn her into Joan of Arc.
The play's one misstep is an epilogue, in which—following a very moving account of her death at the hands of an Israeli bulldozer—we are shown footage of the real Rachel Corrie at ten years old, participating in an elementary school project about world hunger. It's a blatant tug at the heartstrings, the kind of sentimentality that Rachel herself, I suspect, would have found bogus; My Name is Rachel Corrie everywhere else is above this kind of audience manipulation and it's a dishonest way to end the play. This is a story without a heroine, though its protagonist seems desperately to want to become one; that's the source of its very real, very involving potency.