Though the play and its lead actress — Megan Dodds — were greatly lauded for the original English production, this one-woman show is not great theatre. But it is good theatre, and the controversy surrounding the politics of the play is somewhat misguided.
Corrie’s take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, no doubt, fairly one-sided and perhaps even simplistic. Israel and the USA are, in her mind, oppressors who make innocent Palestinians suffer. She justifies Palestinian violence as an understandable response to despair, and she does seem to believe that Israeli occupation is the root of the problem.
But despite this, My Name is Rachel Corrie is not really about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s about a young woman and her passion, a person from a relatively privileged background trying to come to grips with the horrible fate of other human beings. And this part of the play — which is most of the play — is both effective and compelling.
Ben Brantley, writing in the New York Times put it perfectly:
The play, directed by Mr. Rickman, is not an animated recruiting poster for Palestinian activists. Its deeper fascination lies in its invigoratingly detailed portrait of a passionate political idealist in search of a constructive outlet. And its inevitable sentimental power is in its presentation of a blazing young life that you realize is on the verge of being snuffed out.
Rachel continuously cites the kindness of the Palestinians who take care of her during her stay in Gaza. These are not throw-away lines. Rachel is, first and foremost, motivated by the tragedy of these people’s lives. And she’s right. It is a tragedy — and it’s our tragedy. Even if you believe Israeli policies are 100% appropriate, it would still be tragic that our brothers and sisters are wrapped up in a conflict that causes suffering to so many people — many of whom are, no doubt, very good people.
As Brantley concludes, so do I: “No matter what side you come down on politically, Ms. Corrie’s sense of a world gone so awry that it forces her to question her ‘fundamental belief in the goodness of human nature’ is sure to strike sadly familiar chords.”