Arts Here Comes Corrie
posted by March 20 at 13:36 PMon
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.