Wednesday, March 28, 2007

PLAY: My Name is Rachel Corrie at Seattle Repertory Theatre

My Name is Rachel Corrie,
by Rachel Corrie, Katherine Viner & Alan Rickman
starring Marya Sue Kaminski, directed by Braden Abraham
Seattle Repertory Theatre, March 15 to April 22, 2007

Ten years ago, I was visiting my ex-girlfriend in New York and she suggested we go see a movie. It was a less painful proposition than talking to her, so we drove to the local multiplex and picked Jerry Maguire, then in its first days of release. It seemed the least objectionable choice, but my expectations were incredibly low. And I ended up really liking the movie, so much so that I recommended it to friends when I returned to Seattle. Most of whom ended up hating it. It was, by that time, the much-hyped sensation we remember it to be.

Such is the power of expectations.

And surely some of that is in play with my reaction to Seattle Rep’s production of My Name is Rachel Corrie. I was underwhelmed by the play as a piece of literature, and further put off by a fawning review from a local critic whose tastes rarely synch with mine. I entered the theater with exceedingly low expectations.

And it blew me away.

Almost all of the credit goes to Marya Sue Kaminski as Corrie. She manages to avoid the nigh-inevitable lags in energy and/or narrative that plague one-person shows. Kaminski is immediate and vitally present every moment she is on stage, deftly metamorphosing from exuberant Rachel to terrified and serious Rachel. Her dynamic portrayal of a young woman living the courage of her convictions is enough to pierce the shell of hardened cynics, a group among which I count myself.

The production isn’t, however, without it faults. I found it surprising and disappointing, given the level of controversy that follows the play, that the epilogue, Corrie’s death, would be handled so clumsily. After Kaminski leaves stage, several disembodied voices, presumably of Corrie’s companions, describe the events of her death, laying responsibility firmly at the feet of the IDF with claims that the bulldozer driver “clearly” saw Corrie over the dozer’s scoop, and hesitated directly over her body before withdrawing.

Until that point, the production managed to be bigger than the politics that surround it. Kaminski’s performance is so strong that the play clearly reads as the perspective of a single person. While still a political play, it avoids being a political statement. By introducing a plurality of voices in the end, all of whom share the political perspective of Corrie, it moves from one woman’s perspective to discourse on the facts. Until that point, there was no need for equivalency within the play, but that move to multiple voices demands it. A far more powerful conclusion could have been reached with an objective prologue, reporting her death and the disputed facts thereof.

This and a brief backstory digression about a trip to Dairy Queen with mental health clients that served only to diffuse tension that might better have been directed elsewhere are the only missteps in a strong production, anchored by a stellar performance by Kaminski.

It was worth mounting, and is worth seeing, much to my (delighted) surprise.

reviewed by Jim Jewell, 497 words



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