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A CurtainUpReview
My Name is Rachel Corrie

My Name is Rachel Corrie's Much Delayed and Publicized Arrival in New York

By Elyse Sommer

The brouhaha stirred up when New York Theatre Workshop indefinitely postponed this docudrama about a bright, literate and passionate young American activist for Palestinian rights who was killed in 2003 by an Israeli Army bulldozer is not hurting ticket sales at the Minetta Lane Theater where it's now opened for a limited run. Advance sales have been brisk and the house was packed on the night I attended.

When there was an unexplained fifteen minute delay for the show to begin, it set my companion to wondering if there was some sort of threat requiring special safety measures before the show could begin. He need not have worried. The play went on and will no doubt continue to do so without incident for its limited run.

The New York Theatre Workshop's skittish actions to the contrary, this is not an especially incindiary political play and those who disagree with its point of view are unlkely to regard it provocative enough to mount protests or undertake any threatening actions.

While we are living at a time when political theater is more relevant and eagerly received than during all too rare periods of relative tranquility, the problem with most political dramas is that they tend to be one sided and attract an audience on the same page as the creative team. Thus the people who flocked to Victoria Brittain and Gillian Slovo's Guantanamo didn't need anyone to make them angry about Guantánamo Bay. The success of David Hare's Stuff Happens was not just Hare's compelling writing but the play's resonance with audiences bristling with contempt for the Bush administration.

My Name is Rachel Corrie, being a solo show, is much more intimate and personal than either of those also fact-based works. However, it is as unabashedly one-sided. Unfortunately, I was less impressed with its artfulness and and dramatic potency than my British colleagues, both excellent and smart writers. Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner have done a creditable job of using Corrie's own writings to create a very human and at times powerful portrait of a young idealist who died too young and unnecessarily. Megan Dodds is obviously committed to this role which she created in London but I didn't find her performance as consistently compelling as did Charlotte Loveridge and Brian Clover. The staging, which takes us from Rachel's bedroom to Gaza where her efforts to protect Palestinian families from losing their homes ended disastrously, is quite effective, but the needed broader approach to the issues gets lost in the effort to make this a real play. Sure it's heartbreaking to watch this idealistic young girl being swept into a conflict whose roots predate her birth — and to see her die before she can get a fuller grasp of the horrible situation she's gotten caught up in. Ultimately, however, and call me unfeeling for saying this, Rachel comes off as a young woman who was obviously bright and precociously humanistic — but she's no Anne Frank.

I'm putting these notes on top of our London critics' reviews and leave it to you to make up your own mind about the play. As you can see from the production notes below, the only major change is the venue and that Bree Elrod takes over for Megan Dodd at the matinee performances.

Adapted by Katharine Viner & Alan Rickman from writings by Rachel Corrie
Directed by Rickman
Starring Megan Dodds; Bree Elrod (Sat & Sun matinees)
Design: Hildegarde Bechtler
Lighting: Johanna Town
Sound: Emma Laxton
Running Time: 90 minutes without intermission
Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane, (6th /Macdougal Sts), 212/ 307-4100
From Octobr 5 to November 19, 2006--Extended to December 30th; opening October 15th
Tue — Sat at 8pm; Sat & Sun at 3pm; Sun at 7pm
Tickets: $45 — $65

Between life and death there are no dimensions… there are no guarantees or warranties - it's just a shrug.
---- Rachel Corrie

My Name is Rachel Corrie ?
Megan Dodds as Rachel Corrie
(Photo: Stephen Cummiskey)
The tragedy of Rachel Corrie's articulate, sensitive yet spirited life has deservedly re-opened to larger audiences in the West End after finding success at the Royal Court last year. Fortunately, the play does not lose its sense of atmosphere in being transferred to a larger auditorium.

Megan Dodd's performance is stunningly natural and really engaging. With expansive thoughtfulness, she portrays Rachel's sense of uncompromising humanity but also her sharp awareness of the ridiculous. The play is split into two halves. Firstly, there is girlish comedy as Rachel is an American college student, concerned about bumping into ex-boyfriends or lamenting her impulsive decorating. This is followed by a more earnest section as she goes to the Gaza Strip, with a set-design of sun-baked sand, her welcome into Palestinian families, and finally chilling calamity. This is so intimate and revealing a portrait of the 23 year old, that it does not feel like an indictment of international politics. In fact, much of its strength lies in Rachel Corrie's individuality and this play tries to reach the touchingly normal girl behind the reputation. -- Charlotte Loveridge

Hildegard Bechtler (set design), Johanna Town (lighting design) and Emma Laxton (sound and video design). MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE
Taken from the writings of Rachel Corrie
Edited by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner
Directed by Alan Rickman

Starring: Megan Dodds
Design: Hildegarde Bechtler
Lighting: Johanna Town
Sound: Emma Laxton
Running time: One hour and thirty minutes with no interval
Box Office: 0870 060 631
Booking until 7th May 2006
Re-reviewed by Charlotte Loveridge at the 30th March 2006 performance at the Playhouse Theatre, Northumberland Avenue, London WC2 (Tube/Rail: Embankment/Charing Cross)

The Original Review by Brian Clover

Power-drunk, over-educated little slut!
--- Rachel Corrie on Rachel Corrie
Rachel Corrie, a 23 year old political activist from Olympia, Washington, was crushed to death by a bulldozer in the Gaza Strip in 2003. Was she a simple decent person, a heroic martyr, a naïve meddler, an exploited idealist? This is a story that will inevitably divide opinion. But whatever your views on the events that led to her death, you will find it hard not to be moved by this stunning dramatisation of her life.

Considered purely as art, this is a very American story, not unlike a story by Hemingway or Robert Stone. The arc moves from teenage self-obsession in a suburban bedroom to self-sacrifice in a foreign land where even the small children have a precocious understanding of world politics. It starts in innocence and hope and ends with the horrified recognition that something like evil may actually exist. A young woman who leaves her hometown saying 'I'm phobic of community' dies defending somebody else's.

But My Name is Rachel Corrie is not simply art. Alan Rickman and Katherine Viner have subtly devised the play from Rachel's own writings and what we have here, as far as one can tell, is her truth. And what a writer she was! What a career she could have had. There are passages about love and work funnier than most sit-coms; accounts of parents and daughter's fumbling attempts at understanding more touching than many plays or movies; descriptions of common human kindness and brutality; pen portraits; and lists, always lists for Rachel was an organised and organising young woman.

What you won't find much of here is polemic, apart from one passage when, exasperated by what she takes to be her parents' failure to understand the nightmare world she has found, she lectures them… and promptly apologises. The piece is not about politics, but about someone experiencing a reality they never dreamt of. Rachel alternately strains to understand how such things can possibly be, and wishes she could let herself be re-absorbed into Olympia's more innocent world of heart-stopping sunsets, owl women and subterranean salmon.

Rachel isn't idealised. You sense she could perhaps be a pain, self-centred, stubborn, loquacious. But we are allowed see her self-assurance crumple, her certainties challenged, her faith in the future shaken. Shorn of its contemporary references, this could be a portrait of an idealist seen by Dostoievsky or Conrad. The audience is allowed to make up its own mind about Rachel. You can strongly disagree with her views but still be moved by the painful integrity with which she struggles to construct them. This Rachel wanted to be a writer, so set out to discover the world to have something to write about. But much later, rendered speechless by her experiences, she is forced to ask, 'How can I be a poet?'

Those with no interest in world politics will still find this a masterly production. Alan Rickman's direction is a masterpiece of fluent and subtle pacing. Hildegard Bechtler's stark set is a work of art in its own right, taking us from the West Coast to Gaza in ten paces. But Megan Dodds gives us a stunning performance as Rachel, nuanced and profound over the ninety minutes she occupies the stage alone. This is what the theatre is for. Now we need a play about the man who drove the bulldozer: I suspect that's what Rachel would have wanted.

My Name is Rachel Corrie
Written by Rachel Corrie
Edited by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner
Directed by Alan Rickman

Starring: Megan Dodds
Designer: Hildegard Bechtler
Lighting Designer: Johanna Town
Sound: Emma Laxton
Running time: Ninety minutes with no interval
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking to 30th April 2005.
Reviewed by Brian Clover based on 21st April 2005 performance at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Sloane Square SW1W 8AS (Tube: Sloane Square)
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©Copyright 2005, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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