Friday, June 6, 2008

My Name is Rachel Corrie - Review

I thought this play was a worthy project. It was based on the journals of Rachel Corrie, the 23-year-old American woman killed by an Israeli bulldozer while protesting the destruction of a Palestinian settlement.

I recently watched this production (made famous in Toronto by the controversy caused when it was rejected by CanStage). Unfortunately, I was so excited to see this piece that I came up with a better play in my head as was disappointed by what I saw.

What I saw:
The first half of the play was terribly boring. I didn't know what was more painful: the relentless misfiring jokes or watching Corrie's life being ruthlessly pounded into the mold of "typical American girl". Her relationship with her parents was wonderfully sophisticated but so misunderstood. Corrie was being played below the intelligence of her dialogue. It's a one-woman show and while Bethany Jillard held her weight she had a tendency to shout her lines -like a high schooler who "turns on" their acting. This poor choiceto show youth (I hope it was a choice) was dropped for the second half of the play. Corrie talks about life in Rafah, the horrors of civilian lives amidst military conflict, and her resolution that she is doing good in the world. The play collapsed under the weight of its politically charged content. There's a lot of talk about it being a simple story about a passionate young girl in a mad mad world but it's clear that it's written to raise awareness of the suffering of Palestinian civilians as a result of the state of Israel's security policies. It's part tragedy and part journalism and it does neither effectively.

The play in my head:
My version is a story about the politics of youth: the mix of inspiring idealism and pathetic naivety -not the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

drop any pretense of fair representation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and show Corrie at her most indignant and righteous. The play I saw was boring because it tried to remove her bias and show a safe, watered-down version of her politics. It was embarrassing that this tame play is considered controversial. She was a political radical. I want the audience to see and feel that.

Second: show a more realistic and flawed Rachel Corrie. I say this because, looking between the lines of the play, she struck me as an interesting outsider. Intelligent, passionate, and an introverted journal writer. She has no lasting friends in the play (other than her parents) and the only suggestion of an intimate relationship looks like it was based upon an exaggerated fantasy in her journal. I was very interested in the final video played. Who put those words in her mouth? How do so many children develop their "save the world" perspective?

Third: Show her to be naive, childish, and desperate. She's an American girl traveling abroad to
police the globe. Be honest. Her desire to save the world is rooted in her self-esteem and attempt to make friends (my bias is that human life is most often a struggle for the individual to be accepted by the group on their own terms). There's also an edge of wanting to be an exotic freedom fighter. I have spoken with many high school students with an imperial "I Must Save Africa" worldview. It provides a moral high ground in the hopes that others will look up to them (I have seen this backfire -striving to be an inspiring mini-Gandhis can push others away by making them feel guilty or inferior).

Fourth: Now that the audience has dismissed her as flawed and misguided, show her courage and the difference she makes. Whatever her flaws, Corrie took risks, made sacrifices, and stood up. She never resigned herself to thinking violence cannot be stopped. Maybe she's compensating for first world white guilt but what of it? She used her life to protect civilians in a conflict. There is a profound frustration in Corrie about the world we live in and wisdom in the awareness that we are the ones choose it. My play would leave audiences with the following feeling:

That girl was embarrassingly naive but what the f*ck have I done with my life? When did I give up? If the audience carried that sentiment into learning about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict then I would consider my work worthy.

When Werner Herzog's doc "Ballad of the Little Soldier" was accused of criticizing the Sandinista rebels (in the Nicaraguan conflict in the 1980s), he responded that he was not making a political film. He was trying to tell the story of child soldiers. My own view is that everything is political -everything is about power and choosing a side. But I prefer Herzog's approach to storytelling: listen to now and speak to forever.


meja said...

Bethany Jillard graduated from my program at the UCDP. I am going to see this show and then talk about with you. lol. all your points seem valid. I was already going into the production with a critical eye about it. I hate the laziness with which theatre generalize
cultural conflicts and violence. and I hate the oversimplification of the idea of peace, rarely are any of those done well in theatre.

- mina

Lucky16 said...

Having seen "My Name is Rachel Corrie" and been thunderously affected both by the carefully selected material and well-crafted performance by Bethany Jillard, I am perplexed in the extreme by this review. Perhaps it was - as you stated - your expectations that ruined the play for you? It does seem to me that this review is contradictory in the extreme, for example: at various points it was a "mistake" to play Rachel Corrie as a young girl (at the point in the story when she is such) but then later claim that if she had been portrayed as a younger girl, it would have made it a better show; The second half "collapses" under the weight of its politics, but you suggest what's missing is the politics of the piece...? My experience in the audience - grounded in the understanding that these words are Rachel's own, and never intended to be for public consumption - was of a very specific, very personal account of a young woman searching for her place in the world and a way to make the world better. To assume that this piece is either "a tragedy" (its a tragic ending, but not Tragedy) or journalism (its her private emails and diary entries!) is to have missed the point completely. To suggest that Rachel or her story have been "generalized" or stereotyped is to miss the most powerful aspect of this piece: that these ARE IN FACT RACHEL'S OWN WORDS. Rachel said what she wanted to sat. Maybe not what YOU'D like her to say, but that's not a problem with the play.

Toronto Theatre Patron

Nemo Dally said...

I'm happy to hear that you were "thunderously affected" by the play. If you reread my entry you might find that we are kindred spirits searching for inspiration.

It is my cynical laugh in the theatre when I hear "based on a true story".

My concern was that selective editing led to a simplistic portrayal of a more complex and interesting young woman.

In your own words:
"are Rachel's"

I recommend the documentary Bil'in My Love (aka Israeli Wall Must Fall).

(pause as you watch it)

Did you enjoy it?