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St. Louis by Sarah Boslaugh

My Name is Rachel Corrie
Blue Rose Stage Collective

My Name is Rachel Corrie
Magan Wiles
Blue Rose Stage Collective is doing St. Louis a huge favor by giving us the opportunity, with their debut production, of seeing the controversial play I Am Rachel Corrie. It's a one-woman show focused on the short (23 years) life of the title character, a peace activist from Washington State who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer as she protested the destruction of a Palestinian home in the Gaza Strip. Magan Wiles, one of St. Louis's most gifted young actresses, is exactly the right person to bring to life the character of this young woman as she grows from an exuberant and well-meaning but somewhat naive and unfocused young adult into a dedicated activist who grasped the enormity of the injustice she was witnessing on a daily basis.

The play is split neatly into two halves: the first presents Rachel at home in Olympia. She's full of imagination, energy, rebellion and immaturity and doesn't know exactly what she wants, but she does know what she doesn't want: to follow in the "khaki and high heels" professionalism of her two older siblings. She's more than a bit precocious and self-dramatizing and given to making lists of things like "Five People I Wish I'd Met Who are Dead" and "Five People to Hang Out With in Eternity," but she's also sincerely seeking out a cause to which she can dedicate her life.

This section seems overly long, although Ms. Wiles does everything humanly possible to bring her character to life. The problem is that every word in the play comes from Rachel's own writings (as arranged by actor Alan Rickman and journalist Katharine Viner) and they are often as self-involved and immature as you would expect the expressions of a teenage girl to be.

At almost exactly the 45-minute mark in the show, Rachel departs for Palestine to work with the International Solidarity Movement, an organization supporting the Palestinian cause through non-violence protest. She has decided she wants to "meet people who are on the other end of the tax money that goes to fund the U.S. military" and hopes she can make herself useful because, as she self-deprecatingly observes, "I can't be Picasso. I can't be Jesus. I can't save the planet singlehandedly. I can wash dishes."

The second half of the play is more interesting because Rachel is finally doing something besides obsessing about what she should do with her life. It's a real pleasure to watch her grow into a thoughtful, determined young women convinced she is the daily witness to injustice and who is determined to do everything in her power to make it stop. The story gets darker as the bulldozers, tanks and bullets come closer, and Rachel's last lines are a stunning speech concluding with her realization that the difference between life and death can come down to no more than "one shrug and a shake of the head." A brief coda in voiceover describes the circumstances of her death and the closing images are of a 10-year-old Rachel expressing her dream "to save the forty thousand people who die each day" of hunger and her belief that "they dream our dreams and we dream theirs."

On the face of it there's nothing in I Am Rachel Corrie which would seem to justify either censorship or protest: no nudity, no bad language, no graphic violence. There is also no political speechifying, just the observations of a young woman often unsure about her place in the world but also willing to name injustice when she saw it (and seldom has there been a play which was more clearly the expression of the views of one individual). But this was apparently too much for the New York Theatre Workshop which cancelled a scheduled production of this play in 2006, after an acclaimed production at the Royal Court Theatre in London (it was later performed at the Minetta Lane Theatre in New York). If a 23-year-old can understand the difference between opposing specific Israeli policies and being anti-Semitic one hopes that the adults who head arts organizations could do likewise.

As frequently happens, the notoriety of this play has only garnered it more publicity and probably extended its stage life. Frankly, while I enjoyed the production and particularly Ms. Wiles' performance, My Name is Rachel Corrie is no masterpiece of dramatic literature. It's hard enough to make a one-person play interesting, but imagine trying to do so using only materials written by someone who led a fairly ordinary middle-class existence up until the last few months of her life.

On the plus side My Name is Rachel Corrie could not have asked for a better production than it receives courtesy of the Blue Rose Stage Collective. Under the expert direction of Tom Martin Magan Wiles brings Rachel to life and gives us a real sense of her transformation in response to her experiences in Palestine. The technical elements are also first-rate, including a spare set and dramatic lighting design by Mark Wilson and costumes by Soon Martin. In the first half the set consists of an unmade bed, a table and chair, and books and clothes strewn about the room; for the second half the bed is wheeled away, the clutter cleaned up and an overhead light is lowered making the focus of attention the table where Rachel does her writing and thinking (and sometimes sets the light to swinging, film noir style). A large projection screen at the back of the stage is sometimes used to show the places Rachel is talking about and sometimes (more effectively) to show her performance (as if she were on television) simultaneously. The effect is uncanny and foreshadows the larger-than-life figure she would soon become.

My Name is Rachel Corrie will continue at the Black Box Theatre at Saint Louis University's Xavier Hall through July 18. Ticket information is available from bluerosestage@gmail.com. You can read more about Rachel Corrie at www.rachelswords.org and www.rachelcorriefoundation.org.

My Name is Rachel Corrie
Author: Rachel Corrie, edited by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner
Director: Tom Martin
Performer/Producer: Magan Wiles*
Assistant Director/Producer: Brooke Edwards
Public Relations/Producer: Meghan Maguire
Stage Manager/Light Board Operator/Voiceover Talent: Dylan Duke
House Manager: Helen Hoepfner
Photography: John Lamb
Production Manager/Sound Board Operator: Danny Maly
Box Office Manager: Audrey Martin
Costume Designer/Props Master: Soon Martin
Props Assistant: Katie McGee
Camera Operator: Dane Tournear
Program Designer: Erin Wiles
Set Designer/Light Designer: Mark Wilson

*Appears courtesy of Actor's Equity Association


Photo: John Lamb


-- Sarah Boslaugh

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