Puppetry of the Accidental Martyr
Last night I went to the first performance of the new Rachel Corrie play at ConWorks. It’s not that Rachel Corrie play, not the one that was recently cancelled in New York, causing all kinds of recriminations over alleged censorship. It’s a different Rachel Corrie play, a puppet play, put on by the Vermont-based Bread and Puppet Theater.
I was sent to this performance not because I’m some connoiseur of puppetry, or theater, but because I have something of a history with Rachel Corrie representations. I wrote one of the first long pieces about her death in 2003, when The Stranger sent me to the Gaza Strip to find out more about how the former Evergreen College student had become an accidental martyr in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
I didn’t expect a puppet troupe to be able to create a more vivid experience than the one I had reporting on Rachel’s death in Rafah, the tense, dirt-poor town along the border between Gaza and Egypt where Rachel died beneath an Israeli bulldozer. (And I know, it’s probably not fair to evaluate this kind of theater by asking whether it beats my own personal experience, but hey, I’m not not a theater critic, I’m just a guy who’s been to Rafah.) Anyway, I was surprised at how evocative some of the scenes were, particularly the depiction of giant (Israeli) feet treading in the first act upon the puppet Palestinians. The puppets’ heads and arms contort, Guernica style, in response to pressure from the feet. It all might sound pedantic, but it was affecting.
The problem was that this stomping motif was repeated, oh, five times straight, in five separate scenes. It risked coming across as heavy-handed (or heavy-footed) the first time it occured, and by the fifth time, it was becoming so tiresome I wanted tread my way out of ConWorks. But I didn’t. When was I going to get another chance to be trod upon by overwrought lefty theater?
Let’s not speak of the second act, or the between-act interludes, which were called “Dances Against the Federal Fear Implementation Program.”
But let’s do speak of the third act, during which a giant female puppet was assembled, disassembled, and reassembled, the way Rachel has been since her death by people like, oh, me. I liked that.
I am saying nothing about the narrative aspects of this performance, because no one should go for those aspects. They are predictable and poorly executed. One should go for the puppets, however. They are quite good. (And if one is going on Saturday, one might also go for the talk by Rachel’s parents, which sounds interesting.)