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Edited by Alan Rickman and Katherine Viner
neworldtheatre and Teesri Duniya Theatre
Havana Theatre
1212 Commercial Dr.
Jan. 16-Feb. 9
Pay What You Can (Tues-Thurs); $25 (Fri-Sat)

In March, 2003, 23-year-old Rachel Corrie of Olympia, Washington was crushed to death by an Israeli Defense Forces bulldozer in the Gaza strip while protesting the destruction of Palestinian homes. British actor Alan Rickman and journalist Katharine Viner edited her diaries and emails into this 90 minute one-woman show.

Productions planned for New York and Toronto in 2006 were cancelled in the face of complaints that the play was politically one-sided and anti-Semitic, so this Canadian premiere arrives with a buzz.  The latest events in Gaza add to its timeliness. Co-produced by Montreal’s Teesri Duniya and Vancouver’s neworldtheatre, My Name Is Rachel Corrie proves both educational and moving in an impressive, understated performance by Vancouver’s Adrienne Wong. 

The play begins with Candelario Andrade’s video news clips on the walls of the theatre letting us know how Rachel’s story ends.  So how did she come to be there, and what was the meaning of her death? Rachel tells us about her liberal parents and early idealism.  Even as a kid she would imagine a happy-face world in which “everyone will say hello from their car windows.”  She’s inspired by the intrepid salmon that survive in the local stream and by her friend Colin who lives life so intensely compared to her.

So she ends up in a village in Gaza, a volunteer with other young people in the International Solidarity Movement, doing what little she can to help the Palestinians.  Over the months her outrage grows as she experiences the indignities and intimidation visited upon Palestinian civilians by the overwhelming force of the Israeli military—the random gunfire from towers and tanks, the arbitrary destruction of wells, greenhouses and homes. She neatly symbolizes her personal transformation by turning the American flag she carries in her pack into a headscarf. Her death seems just as random, stupid and unjust as all the other horrors she describes.

Like most docudramas, this play makes no pretense at telling both sides of the story. The Israelis are clearly the bad guys, the Palestinians and Rachel herself innocent victims. I have no problem with this.  Rachel makes clear that her quarrel is with the state of Israel, not the Jewish people. The problems for me are theatrical. Rachel’s idealism is more compelling than her writing, and Sarah Garton Stanley’s spartan production does little to help lift it off the page. Staging the play in the round is a major error. I wanted to see Wong’s face, not her back.

Sunday, Feb. 3 at 3 pm, Wong interviews Rachel Corrie’s parents at SFU Harbour Centre, free to the public.

Jerry Wasserman