If Israel is supposed to be the sixth borough of New York, then it’s looking like the theater is another occupied territory. After the New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW) indefinitely postponed My Name Is Rachel Corrie in response to the “concerns” of unnamed Jewish organizations, the play’s future is in question.
Alan Rickman’s play was developed for England’s Royal Court Theatre from the journals that American anti-occupation activist Rachel Corrie kept from the age of 12 up until the day in March 2003 she was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer set to demolish a Palestinian home in the Gaza Strip. Corrie, 23, was the first “international” to be killed while volunteering with the International Solidarity Movement, a non-violent direct action organization that attempted to obstruct the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
“I can only guess at the pressures of funding an independent theater company in New York, but calling this production ‘postponed’ does not disguise the fact that it has been cancelled,” Rickman said in a statement.
The script is not yet commercially available in the United States, but if the rave reviews of the British press can be taken at face value, a serious work of art has been suppressed, at least for the moment, in the United States.
According to The Guardian, over “the course of 90 minutes you feel you have not just had a night at the theater: you have encountered an extraordinary woman.”
For those closely following the “row,” we’ve instead been treated to the entirely unextraordinary personage of James Nicola, the NYTW’s queasy artistic director.
When Rickman went public, decrying what he called “censorship,” Nicola first responded by denying that the play was set to open in March, adding that “after Ariel Sharon’s illness and the election of Hamas, we had a very edgy
situation,” before denying that outside pressure played any part in his decision. “We found that our plan to present a work of art would be seen as us taking a stand in a political conflict that we didn’t want to take.”
Outrage was swift in England, with Vanessa Redgrave calling it “political cowardice,” and threatening to take the NYTW to court over her investment in the production.
After pressure from both sides of the Atlantic that one receptionist at the theater called “overwhelming,” Nicola amended his early hedges by saying, “We were trying to do whatever we could to help Rachel’s voice be heard.”
There is still no date or guaranteed venue for the play’s opening.
“Whether one is sympathetic with her or not, her voice is like a clarion in the fog and should be heard,” Rickman said.
The month before she was killed, Corrie wrote to her parents: “I look forward to seeing more and more people willing to resist the direction the world is moving in, a direction where our personal experiences are irrelevant, that we are defective, that our communities are not important, that we are powerless, that our future is determined, and that the highest level of humanity is expressed through what we choose to buy at the mall.”
Responding with something of a theatrical intifada, activists have staged several readings of Corrie’s journals around the country, including a major showing at the Riverside Church on March 22 with Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, Suheir Hammad, Danny Hoch, Eve Ensler and Howard Zinn.
Check rachelswords.org for more info.