After three engagements in London and one suspended run in New York, the controversial one-woman play My Name is Rachel Corrie will open in Seattle. Corrie is based on the journal entries and e-mails of a 23-year-old political activist from Olympia killed in the Gaza Strip in 2003.
The Seattle Repertory Theater is expected to be the first regional theater in the U.S. to stage the play ` the very idea of which is offensive to some local Jews ` as part of its 2006-7 season. It is scheduled to run in the Leo K. Theater between March 15 and April 22 of 2007.
My Name is Rachel Corrie opens with the young Evergreen State College graduate in the bedroom of her Olympia home, dreaming of her future revolutionary conquests. When the play closes shortly before her death, with Corrie, by then an impassioned member of the Palestinian-led International Solidarity Movement, confronting Israeli bulldozers in Rafah and calling their military policies in the region `true evil.`
The theater`s decision to stage this divisive play has already started some locals talking and doing some writing of their own.
`We certainly have had e-mails and letters,` said Cynthia Fuhrman, director of marketing and communication for the Seattle Repertory Theater. Seattle Repertory`s artistic director, David Esbjornson, was unavailable for comment.
`There has been more negative than positive feedback about the play,` she said. `I`d say it`s running about 60/40 [percent] with more people being upset. But we don`t make our choices to stage things based on political decisions.`
At the center of the debate about the play is the dispute surrounding the circumstances of Corrie`s death.
Two official investigations in Israel, one by the Israeli Defense Forces Southern Command and another by the military police, found that Corrie`s death was an accident and that the bulldozer that crushed her did not see her.
Conflicting eyewitness accounts from ISM members who were near Corrie that day claim that she was very visible, climbing up onto the bulldozer and even looking directly at the driver in the cab.
`What we responded to was the quality of the writing,` said Fuhrman. `It`s her diaries from the age of 10 on. It`s very personal. Anyone who`s been 23 and trying to find their place in the world can relate to this.`
The play ends the day before the young woman`s death, with a poem that Corrie wrote at the age of 10 about ending world hunger. There is no statement in the original play about the events of that day that led up to the incident.
`Some people who have self-identified as Jewish say it`s a piece of propaganda being used by the propaganda movement,` said Fuhrman, who said that the criticism is coming from both Jews and non-Jews. `Others have gone so far as saying it`s anti-Semitic.`
Rick Harkavy, regional director of the American Jewish Congress` Pacific Northwest chapter, doesn`t believe the play should open at all. Harkavy believes the Jewish community should respond in some way to the play and gathered a group of 20 interested leaders to talk about it.
`I think we need to react somehow, but only a handful of people wanted to stop it,` Harkavy told the JTNews from his Bellevue office. `They shouldn`t be showing it in the first place, but it`s a fait accomplis.`
One idea from the session was to request that the Seattle Repertory Theater provide equal space in the Playbill for the Jewish community`s opposing views on the play`s content. The theater rejected this proposal, said Harkavy.
Others thought advertisements before or after the production might be an effective response. Harkavy will be organizing more meetings in the fall.
`This is a boring play ` a one-woman show about e-mails,` said Harkavy, who has a copy of the script. `This is a lousy, lousy play.
`And the ISM is an anti-Semitic and anti-Israel organization and it doesn`t matter how many Jews are members,` he said.
In an AJCongress `Talking Points` brief, the organization laid the blame for Corrie`s death at the feet of the ISM, citing comments from an ISM founder who admitted that Corrie and others were not wearing helmets and were generally ill-prepared to be in a war zone.
The AJCongress also contends that the play does not provide an accurate view of the situation in the Middle East.
According to Fuhrman, Nancy Geiger, then-acting CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, spoke with her about resources that the Jewish community might use to learn about the play.
My Name is Rachel Corrie was originally edited and directed by actor Alan Rickman, who after reading an article by Katharine Viner, an editor at the The Guardian newspaper in London, about Corrie`s writings was inspired to turn it into a play. Viner is also a co-editor of the play, which premiered in 2005 at the Royal Court Theater there.
After a third run at London`s Playhouse Theater in the spring of 2006, it was nominated for an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement.
By the time it arrived in New York, anger over its anti-Israel message stopped the production from opening.
However, as of June 2006, theatergoers will be able to see the play at Off-Broadway`s Minetta Lane Theater in New York between Oct. 15 and Nov. 19 of this year. It will run 48 performances there.
When asked whether the conflict over the play`s content will hurt its attendance, Fuhrman seemed unfazed.
`Frankly, I think it`s great,` she said. `I would hope that people would engage with it, perhaps even have protests. We`re a theater company. It`s the nature of theater. It`s one of the most consistently democratic venues.`