Remembering Rachel Corrie

In the years since the 23 year old’s death attempting to stand down an Israeli bulldozer, Rachel Corrie has been called both a martyr and a fool. But what she was is something much more complex – an intelligent, compassionate and imperfect human being.

The play “My Name is Rachel Corrie” – opening Friday at Open Eye Figure Theater – is compiled from her journal entries and her e-mails, spanning her childhood right up to the final days before her death. It takes you into the head of a bright and idealistic young woman who keeps a messy room, loves to write, and can’t stand the inequities she sees in the world.

Last night I paid a visit to a final rehearsal of “Rachel Corrie.” Director Jess Finney says she’s staging the play not as a platform for political discussion (although it does deal heavily with the Israel-Palestine conflict) but more as an exploration of American identity.

“Rachel Corrie’s story is so emblematic of the American ideal , with her desire to save the world,” said Finney.

Emily Gunyou Halaas takes on the part of Rachel Corrie. She says she feels both daunted and fortunate to be playing the role of someone who lived so recently. She’s seen videos of Corrie, but says just trying to mimic her would be insult to her memory.

“What makes this play work is that her writing is so beautiful,” said Gunyou Halaas. Indeed – here’s an excerpt:

Nothing could have prepared me for the reality of the situation here. You just can’t imagine it unless you see it. And even then your experience is not at all the reality: what with the difficulties the Israeli army would face if they shot an unarmed US citizen, the fact that I have money to buy water when the army destroys wells and, of course, the fact that I have the option of leaving. I am allowed to see the ocean.

If I feel outrage at entering briefly into the world in which these children exist, I wonder how it would be for them to arrive in my world. Once you have seen the ocean and lived in a silent place where water is taken for granted and not stolen in the night by bulldozers, spent an evening when you didn’t wonder if the walls of your home might fall suddenly inward, aren’t surrounded by towers, tanks and now a giant metal wall, I wonder if you can forgive the world for all the years spent existing – just existing – in resistance to the constant attempt to erase you from your home. That is something I wonder about these children. I wonder what would happen if they really knew.

Rachel Corrie died less than two months after arriving in Israel to work as a “human shield” and do what she saw as her part to save the world. While a bulldozer cut short her life, her story is now known around the world, and her idealist spirit shines even brighter than before.

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