The show examines what it’s like for a 23-year-old woman to understand how the ‘rest of the world’ lives as she’s trying to understand herself and come to terms with growing up.
Amelia Cook Fontella, Isthmus, March 8, 2008
On March 16, 2003, My Name Is Rachel Corrie is Rachel’s story, told almost completely in words taken from these emails and her journals. The show first opened to sold-out audiences in London in April 2005. Its New York premiere in 2006 was cancelled due to outside pressure and what some suggested was flat-out censorship. After a successful off-Broadway run, My Name Is Rachel Corrie has been performed all over the world. And now, this one-woman show about an extraordinary young activist, writer, and dreamer comes to Madison for a short run.
I arrived at the Orpheum Theatre on March 7, opening night, and the lobby restaurant was still abuzz with lingering diners who had joined Rachel Corrie’s parents, Craig and Cindy — in town for this performance — for a pre-show benefit dinner. The play was about to start, things were a bit chaotic, and tickets were in short supply, but the chaos was a warm one, with strangers being friendly to each other and an overwhelming sense that something important was about to happen.
My Name Is Rachel Corrie focuses on the life, not the death, of Rachel Corrie. Portrayed to perfection by actress Brittany Jordt, a student at UW-Madison, Rachel first appears on stage as a vibrant young woman in a bedroom strewn with dirty laundry and fashion magazines. Jordt’s interpretation of Corrie’s imagination and her intelligent innocence bring to mind Luisa from The Fantasticks or Anne from Anne of Green Gables.
In the first half of the show, which is essentially produced as a one-act, we see a whimsical young woman who reflects on her world as much as the world around her. She’s beginning her activism in her community, figuring herself out, and waxing humorously poetic about the ups and downs of life, especially the awkward years between childhood and bona fide adulthood. Jordt, 22, is in tune with the turmoil and humor of this stage of life and brings out the funny and poignant moments with great ease.
The second part of the show, set mostly in Israel and the Gaza Strip, is less about leaving childhood and more about the severity of the world, a world Rachel discovers the way she seems to have discovered everything else, by experiencing it. She is taken care of by Palestinians who, despite having nothing, will accept no money from Rachel or the others there protesting the Israeli destruction of Palestinian homes, farms, and water supplies. The burden of privilege weighs heavily upon Rachel Corrie — she knows that she can leave at any time, but those who depend on the homes and wells she protects can’t.
The show examines what it’s like for a 23-year-old woman to understand how the “rest of the world” lives as she’s trying to understand herself and come to terms with growing up.
After meeting Rachel Corrie through her words, the audience had the chance to meet her parents. For the post-play discussion, Craig and Cindy Corrie spoke with the poise of parents immensely proud of their child yet changed by their great loss. They recounted how My Name Is Rachel Corrie came to be. Almost immediately upon hearing of Rachel’s death, Cindy Corrie thought, “We need to get her words out.” According to the Corries, Rachel’s words are “a window into a place we hadn’t been before.”
While the overt theme of this show is social justice, it’s also about the power of words. Rachel Corrie was a prolific diarist, and she often writes as if she knew her words would have to do her work in her absence. Many times in the show, she seems to predict her own death. Her writing is clear and passionate, infused with innocence and honesty.
We seek something when we enter the theater or pick up a book. Rachel Corrie’s enthusiastic journaling and emailing do something important: they remind the audience that, in Rachel’s words, “There is a chance you will be changed by what you’re looking for.” At opening night of My Name Is Rachel Corrie, the audience left changed. This slightly jaded reviewer left changed.
Next weekend, on the fifth anniversary of Rachel’s death, the Arabic version of the play will premiere in Israel. Rachel’s parents will be in attendance. Organizers have planned a tour throughout Israel and the Palestinian West Bank.