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My Name is Rachel Corrie

There were no protesters inside or outside the newly renamed Bindery Space for the regional premiere of the controversial My Name Is Rachel Corrie, only a quiet parking lot leading inside to a simple wooden platform raised above a sandy landscape. There we find actress Julie Rada conveying the passion and idealism of a young American woman protesting for the rights of Palestinian non-combatants in the 6,000 year Arab-Jew conflict. In the course of her involvement, Corrie died, buried in rubble and run over by a bulldozer.

The ideas conveyed on stage, taken from Corrie's diaries, emails and letters, are reminiscent of the questions and discussions surrounding U.S. involvement in Vietnam in the '60s and '70s, or of anytime when youth holds a mirror to society and exposes the gap between the creed and the reality. But in applying standard imperialistic guidelines to the Middle East, Corrie's ideas come off as na´ve and over-simplistic, especially to audience members well-versed in history of this hot spot.

The real strength of Corrie's argument (and in Rada's portrayal) is her desire and quest for peace. Early on in the monologue, Rada shines as she embodies the 12-year old Corrie recalling a rule she learned in second grade that "Everybody must feel safe." Most of us can agree on that, but it is in the getting there that we end up at cross purposes.

Like so many of those whose politics were forever changed by Vietnam, Corrie's years after high school were filled with a series of shocks as she traveled and became aware of the ravages of poverty, war and pestilence on vast masses of humankind. Growing alongside her moral indignation over this state of affairs was her political education and involvement with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM).

It is from this point-of-view that Corrie explains her notions of Middle Eastern politics, which focus on the difference between what she calls the state of Israel and the Jewish people, and on American foreign policy. She does not mention Arab history, Islam, or even events since 1948, when Israel returned as a nation. Corrie bemoans being accused of Anti-Semitism for discussing Palestinian self-determination, but her Palestinians are the homeless, the dispossessed, those caught in the middle, and not Hamas and Fatah and their Hezbollah and the Party of God allies.

The complexities of the rambling script occasionally get the better of Rada, as she drifts from convincing to recitative and back. Her power is also diluted by the cavernous space and the lack of design for sound projection as well as the distance of the set from the audience. As the climax approaches, however, Rada generally draws closer and, Corrie's one-sided arguments aside, we are drawn to the tragedy of innocents trapped in the cross-fire.

Various critics and journalists, as well as Corrie's family, have argued that My Name is Rachel Corrie is a play that argues for peace, but by ignoring historical context it reads like propaganda. It is certainly important that such voices be heard, but claims that this play, or that people who hold views expressed in this play, are being suppressed because their views run counter to American policy are glossing over the subjectivity of their "facts."

For example, the play lays blame for almost the entirety of the atrocities with the Israel Defense Forces and the Americans from whom they receive certain monies and equipment, as if Arabic cooperation with the Nazis in the Balkans and in Palestine, the half-dozen wars that have taken place since then, and the intermittent indiscriminant rocket attacks and suicide bombings are just footnotes to Israeli-American militarism.

Churchill said, "Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it," and certainly there is plenty of this to go around here. America, Britain and the (former) Soviet Union all failed in various attempts to solve the situation by imposing a political framework on what is, after all, a spiritual problem, with three different religions all claiming exclusive access to the same G-d. When Corrie dons the "Hijab" (head scarf) and attempts to intervene, she casts her lot with the aforementioned ill-fated attempts that ignored the motivation of the combatants. If her memory is to be preserved, it will be as a jumping off point for further discussion.

Countdown to Zero's production of My Name is Rachel Corrie runs through November 17th. 720-221-3821.

Bob Bows

 

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