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'My Name is Rachel Corrie' Continues to Make Waves

This biographical one-woman play continues to shock audiences 12 years later into the war.

On January 25, 2003, college student and young activist Rachel Corrie traveled to Gaza with the International Solidarity Movement. On March 16, 2003, after two months of proximity to gunfire and the destruction of homes, she was killed during a protest by Israeli forces. This is her story, in her own words.

My Name is Rachel Corrie is an autobiographical work of sorts, the text taken from Corrie's journal and emails to friends and family and adapted into a one-woman show by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner. Back in New York for the first time in nine years, the play stands as a testament to a particular moment in the war between Israel and Palestine, allowing us to see and question what has changed since that time, and more problematically, what hasn't.

The play is 90 minutes, one actress and one room. Unlike many previous productions of the show, Sawtooth Productions' version is not staged in a space resembling Corrie's accommodations in Gaza but rather her dorm room in Olympia, Washington before she leaves for Palestine. As Rachel tells us her story, we must imagine with her the walls riddled with holes from gunshots, the rubble where homes once were and the overcrowded houses that remain, with only the subtle projections on the metal roof sheeting behind the actress to help set up the scene.

The show divides neatly into three parts. In the first, Corrie describes her life before Gaza, her clueless, sheltered upbringing and tentative forays into activism. In the second, she describes her time in Palestine itself, day by day according to her journal while the events she witnesses grow ever more horrifying. Only after all of this occurs does the performer make her case, arguing in the name of a civilian populace against human rights violations that, whatever your political views, you cannot help but agree with.

Early Rachel is overwhelmingly naive and more than a bit of an airhead, and the lengthy reminiscing on her childhood and her relationship with her mother does go on for longer than it needs to. But such a starting place only makes her transformation later on more meaningful; we see this young woman grow up right before our eyes. And actress Charlotte Hemmings performs the role throughout the entire show with a light-hearted optimism that makes the story she tells all the more engaging.

Though the script fuses together journal entries and letters, the entire play reads to some degree like a story Rachel is telling her mother, her most frequent correspondent, imbuing the piece with a much greater sense of intimacy than if it consisted of the diary alone. And while the transitions between the source materials are sometimes confusing, the trajectory of the events described is clear. The stories of Palestine build slowly in intensity, keeping the audience engaged with each new moment of crisis or despair.

Other than the episode in which she tells of her job working in mental health counseling which seems to come out of nowhere, it all works into one cohesive narrative. Because the script does not try to preach or make any calls to action until the very end, the audience gets to go on Rachel's journey with her, her companion rather than a too-apathetic mass of people needing to be cajoled into action. Add in the graphic and absolutely unbelievable description of Rachel's death, told through voiceover, and My Name is Rachel Corrie concludes with a standing ovation.

Nine years since its last New York performance, the situation in Israel and Palestine has not in the slightest improved. And while the Palestinian refugee crisis may be largely forgotten now in the wake of Syria and ISIS, that only makes compassion all the more crucial. But as Rachel learned when she started off on her journey, solidarity marches are not enough. More than anything, this play is a wake-up call, and a call to action.

My Name is Rachel Corrie plays at the Culture Project's Lynn Redgrave Theater through April 12.

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