TORONTO — At first glance, a play about Rachel Corrie could be seen as a defence of the Palestians during the second intifadah.
Bethany Jillard as Rachel Corrie
But My Name Is Rachel Corrie, being presented by Theatre Panik at the Tarragon Extra Space in Toronto, is more of a tale of courage and passion than a Middle East politics lesson. It doesn’t matter what side of the argument you sit on; this one-woman show is a tour de force of emotional peaks and powerful sentiment.
Rachel Corrie was crafted from diary entries and e-mails from Corrie, a 23-year-old American who was killed in March 2003 by an Israeli bulldozer while protesting the razing of a house in the Gaza Strip.
If there’s ever been a play that’s faced a bumpy ride to reach international stages, it’s Rachel Corrie. Two theatre companies in Toronto and New York dropped the play last year, reportedly because of the controversy surrounding what detractors see as its one-sided critique of Israel.
Edited by British actor Alan Rickman and journalist Katharine Viner, the script is a collage of Corrie’s diary, offering tidbits from her childhood and gradual growth. We learn how she noticed “a fire in the belly” and why she wanted “to fight monsters.” The precocious youth is soon bombarded with activist options when she attends university. It’s almost too much for her.
Corrie’s character is fully fleshed out in the 100-minute show, thanks to the incredibly adept acting of Bethany Jillard. In a sparse set, Corrie talks about what motivates her to stand up against U.S. foreign policy. She learns about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict slowly, telling herself how it’s necessary for her to fight global injustices. The audience senses the belly fire blazing higher with each diary entry, knowing all too well where she will inevitably end up.
In the first half of Rachel Corrie, the meandering spoken thoughts turn to teenage whims, personal mottos and idealistic opinions. The pacing may not be quick enough to hold everyone’s attention, but the play is building up to a journey Corrie is practically itching to take. Jillard gives Corrie a playful, saucy attitude that slowly fades to wide-eyed fright when she travels to Israel as a member of the International Solidarity Movement.
The second half throws in some facts about the suffering faced by Palestinians, from the Palestinian point of view.
This is the story of one peace activist’s passionate mission to right the wrongs as she sees them. She doesn’t present both sides of the conflict, because her sympathies tend toward the Palestinians, whom she sees wallowing in poverty every day.
Jillard does a masterful job in showing us the arc in Corrie’s life, from her fun-loving dancing-in-her-room days to the protester who admits how frightened she has become. The monologues, almost poetic in their descriptions of Palestinian landscapes, are only half the appeal. Jillard is able to use her expressions and body language to illustrate the fear, disgust and courage Corrie experiences in her final activist mission.
Corrie says at one point, “The Palestinians show dignity even in the constant presence of death.” And Rachel Corrie – a play fraught with controversy from its inception – shows dignity in the face of backlash.
A different production of Rachel Corrie played in Montreal and Vancouver recently, and it has been staged in Britain and the United States, including off-Broadway, and at the Contemporary American Theatre Festival in West Virginia.