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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Here Comes Corrie

posted by on March 20 at 13:36 PM

Tomorrow night, the controversial play about local—martyr? accident victim? nobody agrees—Rachel Corrie opens at the Seattle Rep.

Quickly: My Name Is Rachel Corrie is a solo show culled from her diaries and correspondence, had a moderate success in London but planned transfers to New York and Toronto were canceled after a hue and cry that the play was a tacitly anti-Semitic spin job. Authors Katherine Viner and Alan Rickman say the play is just “a balanced portrait” of Corrie, not a commentary on Israel or Palestine.

Which is disingenuous and kneecaps any real conversation about the play and what it means.

Only someone with total access to Corrie’s journals could say whether the play is actually a balanced portrait. (We do know, for example, that it deals a lot with her domestic dreams “I want a garden with pumpkins” but doesn’t touch on edgier moments like Corrie burning an American flag in Gaza.)

Regardless, it’s impossible to take a politicized figure like Corrie and not comment on the circumstances—and the bulldozer—under which she died.

The most baffling thing about the play—which I’ve read but not seen—is that Corrie’s death is the most interesting thing about her. The rest of her life was typical, banal. In Viner’s words Corrie was: “a messy, skinny, Dali-loving, list-making chain-smoker, with a passion for the music of Pat Benatar.” Which is nice and all, but doesn’t exactly set Corrie apart from her peers.

But Viner seems to think Corrie is a really interesting character. Why?

A theory: Corrie’s blandness makes her universal, a stand-in for everyone, someone we can identify with. And if you built the play around a universal character who is strongly partial to the Palestinians and who dies—accidentally or otherwise—at the hands of the Israelis, you’ve made a very strong emotional appeal to identify with Corrie’s way of looking at the world.

Seems pretty manipulative.

That and the scene that closes the show, a video of ten-year-old Corrie at her school’s Fifth Grade Press Conference on World Hunger, with the words “I’m here for other children. I’m here because I care.”

That’s also unambiguously manipulative. Which is fine. There’s nothing wrong with writing partisan plays (as long as they’re good artworks and not just boilerplate)—but to dodge the responsibility of writing a partisan play just reeks.

Viner and Rickman and all the advocates for My Name Is Rachel Corrie should just come out and say: Yes. We identify with Corrie. We want you to identify with Corrie.

Then, and only then, can we talk seriously and critically about the play and what it means.

I’ll hold my tongue about that until after opening night.

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Having been a Student at a West Bank Palestinian university, I have seen first hand the tactics used by the occupation forces to keep the people down. Rolling over a girl standing infront of the house is one more tactic used. Of course occupation forces have done the same with people INSIDE the houses. Occupation is ugly business, it's not for the faint of heart. People will die under occupations. I have not seen the play, I lived it.

Posted by Sargon Bighorn | March 20, 2007 1:46 PM

I had to talk my friend out of putting a little toy bulldozer at the death shrine in the TESC library building the year this happend. Also her mother would not shut the hell up at graduation very annoying.

Posted by Codes | March 20, 2007 1:49 PM

Brendan, thanks for the Corrie Wikipedia entry.
I never heard the song by Billy Bragg (it's listed as mp3 at the bottom of the page). His words have been 'manipulating' me for the last 20 years.

Posted by Looking for a New England | March 20, 2007 2:14 PM

#2: Um....Rachel Corrie's mother "would not shut the hell up" at graduation? Is that who you mean? found that very annoying?

Yeah, grieving parents. What a pain in the ass. Yadda yadda yadda. Is she still talking?

Wow. Classy.

Posted by Tina | March 20, 2007 2:25 PM

If the parents are grieving, what are they doing yapping away at a college graduation?

But I agree with Brendan. This was something Corrie was quite apparently passionate about, one of those things that sets a person apart from the rest of the herd. Touching on her ordinariness, her banality certainly could be/should be incorporated, but the show should reach to the heart of what she died for. She didn't die for Pat Benatar and pumpkin patches. I can only imagine she'd want to throw this issue into the spotlight, and not hide it in the shadows.

Posted by him | March 20, 2007 2:41 PM

My feeling, also having read but not seen the play, is that the play itself is not equipped to make a cohesive political statement about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and I think any attempt to stage it as one is doomed to fail. The play is strongest as a portrait of a young woman trying to find a way to cope with an unjust world, as we all have to learn to do as we become adults. I think that's what Rickman and Viner are getting at. Corrie was an idealist and arguably naive, but what she definitely was not at age 23 was an expert or a scholar. If somebody wanted to make an anti-Israeli play, there are much more convincing voices than hers.

Posted by matthew | March 20, 2007 2:46 PM

"On the night of Corrie's death, nine Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip, among them a four-year-old girl and a man aged 90. A total of 220 people have died in Rafah since the beginning of the intifada. Palestinians know the death of one American receives more attention than the killing of hundreds of Muslims."

My personal favorite quote about the dead girl.

Posted by Whatever, you only care b/c she's white | March 20, 2007 2:52 PM

I think Lenin called them "useful idiots."

Posted by melwana | March 20, 2007 2:55 PM

It's not surprising the show was cancelled in New York and Toronto. It would never had seen the light of day if it were a more blatant 'commentary on Israel or Palestine.'

NBC is getting grief over a similiarly themed Law & Order.

Posted by daniel | March 20, 2007 3:09 PM

#4 I suppose she could have been grieving but honestly I like the rest of the people there tuned out to her after 20 minutes. Seemed like she was just ranting to me.

Posted by Codes | March 20, 2007 3:17 PM

i have to admit my heart skipped a beat when i saw the headline...i was hoping the Rep was doing the musical version of 'Carrie'...

Posted by michael strangeways | March 20, 2007 3:46 PM

i imagine a balanced portrayal of Corrie would end up looking somewhat like Werner Herzog's "Grizzly Man:" A person with an obsession and huge brass balls commits their life to something, which, however foolhardy, earns them notoriety and gives their life meaning. Whether or not their lives were lived to the fullest or foolishly wasted is left to the viewer to decide.

it would be nice for some people to acknowledge that it is possible to make a play or a movie without expressly endorsing the actions of the protagonist.

Posted by bing | March 20, 2007 3:58 PM

I thought it was a good episode of Law & Order: CI

Had Rachel Corrie not gone to Evergreen I wouldn't remember her name (I went there). It is sad that Rachel died for what she believed, but Israelis and Palestinians have been killing each other since before. My sympathy is equally shared with the innocent Palestinians who are killed by Israeli tanks as I am with innocent Israeli's who are killed by suicide bombers. It's hard for me to find a "good guy" in this war.

Posted by elswinger | March 20, 2007 4:22 PM

Are they still holding the Rachel Corrie Memorial Pancake Breakfast?

Posted by mmm Syrup | March 20, 2007 7:24 PM

Codes, I was there for my sister's graduation, and sure, she was not a polished public speaker, but your idea of her speech has to be limited to a small number of assholes.

The audience was typically full of the fourteen hippies that tend to live with each Evergreen grad, for sure, but Rachel's mom (no matter how stupid you think not ceding your ground when a bulldozer begins to crush your toes is) spoke from the heart in a way that moved everybody, socialist vegans and their meat-eating family members alike. If you were bored or annoyed, you were absolutely in the minority.

Anyway, you're a dick.

Posted by bradcross | March 20, 2007 9:07 PM

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