Performed by Charlotte Hemmings
Directed by Jonathan Kane
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; /Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, /The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned; /The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.” William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”
Rachel Corrie was a remarkable young woman who willingly traded the comfort and privilege of her neo-liberal Olympia, Washington family for her visit to Rafah to live with and advocate for the Palestinians in Gaza whose homes were routinely being destroyed and whose access to employment beyond the Gaza Strip increasingly blocked. Rachel was martyred in Palestine on March 16, 2003 when an Israeli backhoe struck and buried her intentionally. Charlotte Hemmings portrays Rachel and narrates her story from the time of Rachel’s arrival in Rafah until her untimely and brutal death. If ever there was a place where “mere anarchy” was being loosed upon the world and where “the best [lacked] all conviction” it was and it remains the fragile “border” between Israel and Palestine in the Middle East.
Rachel Corrie had a “healthy disrespect for governments,” a disrespect highlighted by the sticker on the lid of her laptop the audience sees upon entering the Lynn Redgrave Theater: “Fox News Get Off the Air.” She also had a profoundly clear understanding of the fragility of life and how the thin line between “being” and “not being” dissolved with a mere “shrug.” She had no fear in entering the Gaza Strip to advocate for the marginalized there struggling to hold onto life and tradition. Rachel understood the difference between what governments do (Israel and the United States) and who people are. Jews outside of Israel and Americans are not equivalent to their respective governments. Nor are the residents of any nation-state or political entity.
Ms. Hemmings’ narration of Rachel’s story from Rachel’s diaries and other writings is both compelling and challenging. The actor portrays Rachel with an unmistakable honesty and authenticity. Listening to Ms. Hemmings describe Rachel’s reaction to being “doted on by people facing doom” is not something to be taken lightly and leaves the audience in the position to decide for themselves weighty matters of guilt and innocence. The exposition given in “My Name is Rachel Corrie” is a bit overlong. Fully half the performance takes place in Olympia. An actor as skilled as Charlotte Hemmings can – with a briefer exposition – portray all the audience needs to know about Rachel Corrie prior to her trip to Rafah.
There are times when Jonathan Kane’s conventional direction drains the energy from the script. Charlotte Hemmings is a gifted actor and can hold her own downstage center riveting the audience with her Rachel rants. Indeed, her performance is most powerful as performance-based poetry (spoken word). And although Linda Hartinian’s set design functions well, it too is restrictive. A better choice might have been a sparse set with more powerful projections onto the back wall of the set.
Despite this, “My Name Is Rachel Corrie” is an important piece of theatre that demands the audience reconsider its conventional understandings of borders and boundaries, reimagine its traditional views on right and wrong, and make rich connections to current conflicts between religions and nation-states. The play also helps to raise enduring questions about culture and race and face the daunting reality that “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.”