On Tuesday, Cyrano’s Off Center Playhouse will host a play so controversial, its first New York City run was canceled last year for fear of political fallout.
“My Name is Rachel Corrie” is a one-woman play based on the journals and e-mails of an American activist crushed to death in 2003 when she tried to stop an Israeli bulldozer from razing Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip.
Atlanta actress and playwright Suehyla El-Attar will stage a reading of the play at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Cyrano's. Admission won’t be charged, but donations are welcome.
Edited by Katherine Viner and Alan Rickman, the play premiered in 2005 to critical acclaim and won Theatergoers’ Choice Awards for Best Director and Best New Play. The play was scheduled to open at the New York Theatre Workshop last March. The theater community blazed when the play was canceled because of pressure from pro-Israel protestors. Several other planned performances have been postponed or canceled for political reasons, including one this month at Oregon Stage Works in Ashland.
Productions that have made it to the stage have rarely gone smoothly. When the Seattle Repertory Theatre put on the play in March, two pro-Israel groups took out ads in the program urging patrons “don’t be misled” by Corrie’s sympathetic Palestianian viewpoints.
But critically, the play remains in high regard. This is from a Seattle Post-Intelligencer review: “I have never seen a play that merged the personal and the political as completely as "My Name Is Rachel Corrie" does. The frightful situation in Gaza that Corrie described, combined with her personal fate, is devastating. But the mere existence of such a passion for peace and justice is heartening, truly. Rachel Corrie was certainly not a typical Gen Y-er. But she is a recognizable and familiar sort of woman. Her story is inspiring.”
Cyrano's artistic director says the play transcends the Israel vs. Palestine issue. “I think the play is really asking ‘Can’t we resolve these human conflicts in a different way,’” said Sandy Harper.
El-Attar is in Anchorage to help develop “Growing Up Native in Alaska,” a theatrical work about contemporary Alaska Native identity which will premiere at Cyrano’s in November. She also happens to be the dramaturg for a production of “My Name is Rachel Corrie” that will open next month at Atlanta’s Synchronicity Performance Group. When El-Attar told Harper about the project, Harper asked El-Attar to do an Anchorage reading.
El-Attar said many of the people protesting the play might not have a good grasp on the play’s content.
“It’s not about her death and it’s not about the politics. It’s just about Rachel Corrie,” El-Attar said. “She’s an interesting, intelligent individual who has that thing we all have in our early 20s: You’re not afraid of anything, you want to save the world, you’re trying to figure out how to make difference.”