“If any of us had our lives and welfare completely strangled and lived with children in a shrinking place where we know that soldiers and tanks and bulldozers could come for us at any moment, with no means of economic survival and our houses demolished; if they came and destroyed all the greenhouses that we’d been cultivating for the last however long do you not think, in a similar situation, most people would defend themselves as best they could?”
This is but one of the numerous diary and email writings by a young, peace seeking activist Rachel Corrie. Corrie was a 24-year-old from Olympia, Washington who devoted her life to help the prevention of bullying from the fourth largest super power in the world (Israel), to a mostly unarmed people (Palestine). In 2003, in the midst of a peace movement, she was struck and killed by an Israeli bulldozer driver. Her story is currently onstage in a gut wrenching production at The Lynn Redgrave Theatre at Culture Project, which runs through April 12th.
Originally staged in 2005 at London’s Royal Court Theatre, the production was well received and pointed its sights towards the New York Theater Workshop. Here, the idea of mounting such a politically charged work was met with too much disagreement and dissension so the transfer was scrapped. Instead, it found a commercial run at the Minetta Lane theater in 2006, where it opened to mixed reviews.
Under Jonathan Kane’s insightful direction, it is now back on the boards where Charlotte Hemmings faces the daunting challenge of recreating Corrie’s activism and understanding of a continually heated, complex, and aggravating situation. At the performance I reviewed, Hemming met and far exceeded the demands, as evidenced by the stunning silence and tears which were wiped away by the end of the 90 minute show (including my own). Hemmings brings a vital urgency to a girl who “still really wants to dance around to Pat Benatar and have boyfriends and make comics for my co-workers” but also just wants the injustices to stop.
It is simple to take absolute stands on what we think is the truth, but in the hands of Katherine Viner and British actor Alan Rickman, who have masterfully edited Corrie’s prose, we are forced to look at this ongoing conflict through a different lens. When Corrie offers to pay for her housing to her Palestinian family, they refuse stating, “We are not a hotel. We help you because we think maybe you will go and tell people that you lived with Muslims. We think they will know that we are good people. We are quiet people. We just want peace.”
After the tragically sobering ending, a video is shown of a 10-year-old Rachel Corrie presenting at her school’s fifth grade press conference on World Hunger. The young, wide-eyed idealist offers a compassionate plea: “We have got to understand that people in Third World countries think and care and smile and cry just like us. We have got to understand that they dream our dreams and we dream theirs.” Corrie is no longer with us, but her enduring words remind us of the possibility for change and that those who seek it with passion and sincerity will have not lived their lives-whatever the length- in vain.
My Name is Rachel Corrie plays through April 12th at the Culture Project’s Lynn Redgrave Theater. 45 Bleecker Street. For tickets and information, visit http://cultureproject.org/current/rachel-corrie/