Friday, March 26, 2010

One-woman play celebrates life of political activist

One-woman play celebrates life of political activist

By Thea Ballard
Published: Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, March 24, 2010
About a month shy of her 24th birthday in March 2003, activist and Evergreen State student Rachel Corrie was killed by an Israeli Defense Force bulldozer while protesting the destruction of Palestinian homes in the Gaza strip. Her controversial death may be what made her famous, but it is her life that is the subject of the one-woman play “My Name is Rachel Corrie.”

Showing this Friday at 8 p.m. in Rockefeller Hall 200, this production of “Rachel Corrie” is a traveling show, featuring actress Courtney Day Nassar. The Grassroots Alliance for Alternative Politics, a student organization, joined forces with local groups Middle East Crisis Response (MECR) and the Dutchess Peace Coalition to host the play.

The MECR, a group described on its website as “joined in support of human rights for Palestinians and an end to the U.S.’s aggressive policies in the Middle East,” has been working on staging a version of this play for some time. Wrote MECR member Paul Rehm in an emailed statement, “After returning from a visit to Israel/Palestine as members of a delegation from Every Church a Peace Church…my wife and I had the good fortune to see the play during its initial run in London and were deeply moved by it.”

He continued: “Along with other members of Middle East Crisis Response, we’ve been working for the day when people in the Hudson Valley might also be able to see this remarkable one-woman play and through it, to learn about Rachel Corrie,” wrote MECR member Paul Rehm in an e-mailed statement.

Written by Alan Rickman and Katherine Viner, the play uses Corrie’s own e-mails, letters and journal entries as sources of material. Given the nature of Corrie’s death, there is something inherently political about the play, but it nevertheless focuses more on Corrie as a human character. MECR member Fred Nagel feels that the focus on the apolitical is an important part of the play. “I think that art brings us to a level of understanding that facts on the ground cannot,” wrote Nagel in an e-mailed statement. “This Friday, we will experience the truths as Rachel Corrie saw them. And the play will help us celebrate what is best in the human experience.”

The play has prompted some controversy in its brief history. A cancelled 2006 run of the show at the New York Theater Workshop caused a stir, raising claims of censorship. There have even been some bumps along the way for this particular production. MECR’s initial attempts to find Albany-to-Hudson area theatre companies interested in performing the play were met with discouraging results: “Honest theatre can be hard for some to handle,” said Rehm.

Once the MECR discovered Courtney Day Nassar’s performance, the search for a venue led the group to Vassar, where they got in touch with the Grassroots Alliance.

Peter Satin ’10, of the Grassroots Alliance, recognized the potential for controversy, but didn’t believe that it would present a significant issue. “I do know that there are a lot of Israeli sympathizers on campus,” he said. “But we hosted something in a similar vein about Israeli military conscious objectors earlier this year, and that went really well.”

Addressing the political nature of the play, he continued, “I guess the structure of the show is not so much agenda’d as it is bringing to light human rights abuses in general—it’s not politically charged. Hopefully the student body will see through the politics involved to look at the greater message.”

Rehm has a distinct vision of what this “greater message” entails: “We live in a society that tends to put on a pedestal those among us who pick up a gun, turning to violence to protect or promote the things we believe in,” he wrote. “Rachel’s life embodied the spirit, the ideal, the belief that there is another way and that defending the lives or homes of others non-violently requires just as much courage and may also call for the ultimate sacrifice.”

Satin continued, “That Vassar students might hear—above the din of voices calling for violent answers in conflict situations—one young woman’s voice rising in support of non-violent responses and from her life know something of the strength those responses require, is worth the efforts of all who care about the justice that accompanies real peace.” 
He added, “I hope the student body can approach it with open minds, and I think it’s an important message that regardless of your political stance towards the Middle East, conflict can speak to anyone.”

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