Friday, July 16, 2010

Play draws heat

Tempers flare over ‘My Name is Rachel Corrie’ after Tuesday performance


By TREVON MILLIARD
Express Staff Writer

Craig Corrie, father of the main subject in the play “My Name is Rachel Corrie,” explains the play’s genesis during a question-and-answer session after a Wednesday showing at the nexStage Theatre. Craig said actor Alan Rickman read some of Rachel’s impassioned e-mails in the British newspaper the Guardian and got together with Guardian journalist Katharine Viner to put the play together for the first showing in London in 2005. Since then, it has been reproduced all over the world. Photo by David N. Seelig

Hailey resident Aaron Taylor and his 18-year-old daughter decided to take in a little culture Tuesday night by going to a play about the Israeli-Palestine conflict, something neither was well-versed in.

But they got much more than they expected at the nexStage Theatre in Ketchum. The surprise didn't come from the play—chronicling an American woman's experiences in the Gaza strip through her writings—but what followed after the lights were raised.

A question-and-answer session immediately followed the play "My Name is Rachel Corrie." Taylor said that's when a man immediately stood and started yelling, accusing the young woman the play is based on of being a flag burner and member of the militant Palestinian group, Hamas, among other things.

Taylor said a heated argument of yelling then ensued among the crowd. He said most people opposed the play's perceived pro-Palestinian leaning, and defended the Israelis.

"I had no idea, until the Q and A, of the heat building in the audience," Taylor said. "Everybody was yelling. It was like a very loud city council meeting times 10. But it was good, a good debate."

The play has been put on around the world since its first showing in London in 2005—even being performed in Israel—and repeatedly stirs up controversy. The initial London production twice had to be moved to larger theaters to meet demand. But when it came to the New York Theater Workshop in 2006, the theater canceled the play after some of the workshop's Jewish donors threatened to withdraw funding. Other productions have been threatened and some canceled due to protest, such as in Plantation, Fla., and Toronto.

Taylor said it's a mystery to him why Americans would have such strong convictions about the Israeli-Palestine conflict halfway around the world.

"I'm surprised they took it that personally, but, boy, did they ever," Taylor said.

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The play isn't what one thinks of when they imagine theater. A woman in her 20s sits in a chair at center stage and reads excerpts verbatim from Corrie's diary and e-mails, as if she were Corrie. The writings are arranged to tell the 23-year-old's story of traveling from Olympia, Wash., to the Middle East to help the Palestinians who live in Gaza.

Some Palestinians have had their homes and water wells destroyed in conflicts with Israel. Corrie lived in Gaza with Palestinian families whose walls were riddled with bullet and tank-shell holes. Two months in, an Israeli Army bulldozer crushed and killed Corrie on March 16, 2003, as she stood between it and a Palestinian home in the southern Gaza strip.

Corrie made clear in her writings that she didn't blame the Jews for Israeli government policy, saying the two aren't synonymous.

"The people of Israel are suffering and Jewish people have a long history of oppression," reads a play excerpt. "We still have some responsibility for that, but I think that it's important to draw a firm distinction between the policies of Israel as a state and the Jewish people."

But many people have still taken the play as anti-Semitic.

Corrie's parents, Craig and Cindy, attended Tuesday's play and a second showing on Wednesday. Craig said in a phone interview between showings that it's a shame the conversation at Tuesday's reading focused on political issues.

He said at Wednesday's showing that the goal of the family and play isn't to pull people to one side of the Israel-Palestine fence. On Wednesday, questions centered on the play and not politics.

"This is not a movement. This is not a cause for me," Craig said. "It's more like when my septic system went out."

The crowd laughed, but he remained straight-faced.

"It was really shitty and needed to be fixed," he said.

A diary excerpt from Rachel Corrie's childhood illustrates her longtime belief in equal treatment, regardless of race. She said there's one rule in life: "Everyone must feel safe."

Trevon Milliard: tmilliard@mtexpress.com




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