Now that the screaming surrounding My Name Is Rachel Corrie has abated and the play has opened at the Minetta Lane Theatre, we can finally judge one of the most controversial plays in years on its own terms. But is it a terrible thing to wish, if only for a while, that the arguments would resume? With the show bathed in the clear, calm light of reality rather than the dim fog of speculation, it's difficult to see what all the fuss was about.
When arguments raged this past spring over New York Theatre Workshop's decision to postpone its planned production of the play, resulting in countless news stories and eliciting from many in the theatrical community accusations of censorship, bias, and fear, the possibilities tantalized: Were we being denied a truly provocative theatrical experience? Could this play finally erase memories of so much of the theatre's recent slipshod agitprop? Was this work so dangerous because it openly and unapologetically challenged?
It is now obvious that the answer to all these questions is no. Still, it is nice to at last have the opportunity to decide for ourselves, and this production of Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner's play - imported from Britain's Royal Court Theatre, with its director (Rickman) and star (Megan Dodds) intact - makes as good a case as could likely be made for this work anywhere. Which is not to say the case is in any way a strong one.
Were the world an equitable place, My Name Is Rachel Corrie would already be the cocktail-party punch line that Tim Robbins's witless 2004 satire Embedded has become. Though this play is much better than that one, it offers no intrinsic reason to take it more seriously: While Robbins's goal was to skewer the Bush administration's handling of Iraq, and Rickman and Viner are examining one woman's feelings about the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, both shows are myopic fantasies that neither provoke nor encourage the necessary discussion of issues too contentious to flourish under any one-sided treatment.
Granted, as Rickman and Viner edited this play from the writings of the real Corrie, who died at age 23 in March 2003 while blocking an Israeli bulldozer on the Gaza Strip, multiple perspectives were always unlikely. Corrie's beliefs, prejudices, and personality must always remain front and center, embodied by the actress tasked with bringing the woman to vibrant, immediate life. But in tracing the last years of Corrie's life from her Olympia, Washington, home to Gaza, where she traveled with the Palestinian-led International Solidarity Movement, Rickman and Viner apply no critical eye of their own.
This is not a large problem for the bulk of the play, such as when Corrie is describing her life and family, articulating for us the burning desire for change and involvement in world affairs that have always defined her, or when she arrives in Gaza, and becomes both increasingly entranced by the people she meets and frightened by the violence escalating around her. If little of this excites, these are harmless enough glimpses at Corrie's foundations.
For her part, Dodds successfully delineates Corrie's journey from suspecting activist to genuine eyewitness: The intensity of her conviction gradually increases until you truly sense in her the fire she describes feeling from the very beginning of the play. (Given Rickman's uninventive staging, which makes static use of Hildegard Bechtler's burnt-out-slum set and includes long stretches of Dodds sitting behind a computer terminal, this can't be easy.) Dodds's passion so informs Corrie's words and actions that, especially by the end of the show, you might find the line between perception and truth blurring into one person.
But is that creation the real Corrie? The conflation of fact and opinion is especially suspect in regards to Corrie's death: There's hardly a mention of the significance of the bulldozer that killed her while demolishing tunnels used to smuggle anti-Israel weapons from Egypt to Gaza. Corrie claimed to be protecting Palestinian homes, but did she know about the tunnels? Did she know and not care? Was she an meaningful sacrifice for the cause she trumpeted, or merely a misguided martyr? Rickman and Viner offer no clues.
How could they? Diaries and e-mails, which constitute the bulk of the words Dodds speaks, are not inherently dramatic, and represent only one, monochromatic vision of the world. But a well-crafted play of any sort is awash in colors, some of which flatter their subjects, some of which don't, but all of which contribute to a picture possessing depth as well as breadth. My Name Is Rachel Corrie is all of the latter and none of the former, and thus as flat as can be. Why was anyone so worried about a play that says nothing worth hearing in a way worth listening to?
My Name Is Rachel Corrie