The Playgoer: High Praise for "Rachel"

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

High Praise for "Rachel"

I went looking for reviews of the London premiere of My Name is Rachel Corrie, just to learn about what I am defending. I'm a free speech absolutist. Absolutely. Sure. But before I command New York Theatre Workshop to produce some rabidly anti-Semitic, Taliban-cheering, Vanessa Redgrave-style denouncement of "zionist hooligans"...I felt I better brush up.

Well here's one rave by that out-of-control agitpropist Michael Billington. If you've heard of him, actually, you know there are fewer in the UK press of higher authority and respect when it comes to drama criticism--and for some 40-odd years. I strongly urge anyone dubious of the play's worth to check this out.

Money quote:

Theatre has no obligation to give a complete picture. Its only duty is to be honest. And what you get here is a stunning account of one woman's passionate response to a particular situation.

True, the co-author of the piece is an editor of Billington's Guardian, which he fully acknowledges. But I don't think this critic goes around saying "stunning" as a courtesy....Basically, I'm convinced from the review that the play is no worse than your average activist documentary theatre (and I thought Guantanamo sucked!) and sounds like at least a great performance and a story to pull at the heartstrings. (Aye, but there's rub--sympathy for a Palestinian sympathizer??? If it were numbingly boring--like, ahem, Guantanamo--no doubt they'd let it slide.)

So who is going to ask NYTW head James Nicola the following questions:
-Why did you program this play in the first place?
-Did you see this play before programming it?
-Do you believe in the merit of this play or not?
-If you're not crazy about its merits, see question 1.
-If you do believe in the play, why do you not defend it in the press against what you admit are misperceptions?
-And, finally, would you have selected this play if Alan Rickman had not been involved?

By the way, where are the community of playwrights on this? Aside from the chilling air of censorship, notice how Nicola lets his artist dangle in the wind after being accused basically of anti-semitism. Way to come to your artists' side.

It all harkens back to McNally's Corpus Christi, I suppose, when Manhattan Theatre Club caved to threats and yanked it, then caved to bad press and reinstated the play. But, hey, at least they were just honest cowards about not wanting to be blown up. What's Nicola's excuse?

I had actually never heard of Rachel Corrie before yesterday, so I imagine there's more to the story there. I get a strong sense that perhaps some on the extreme pro-Israel Right see her as some John Walker Lynd-type traitor: bratty American do-gooder goes to stand with arabs (i.e. "terrorists") and stand up to Israeli bulldozers* (which is what killed her). Again, I'm sure the very title pissed off someone with influence at NYTW. Anyone out there want to fill us in?

(*This has been corrected from my earlier reference to "tanks." Corrie was killed while protesting the demolition of Palestinian homes in Gaza, not deliberately targeted by Israeli military.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When CORPUS CHRISTI was sidelined because of controversy, the NYC theatre community rightly slammed MTC for caving in.

Did prominent NYC theatre artists condemn that decision because they believe fervently in free expression as a bedrock principle?

Or was the decision condemned, instead, only because the *particular* expression involved was politically uncontroversial in the NYC theatre world--since few in that world are offended by the idea of a gay Jesus.

The theatre community's reaction to NYTW's cancellation will speak volumes.

I'm curious, in particular, to hear the reactions of Will Power and Jo Bonney--whose work is currently on stage at NYTW.

I'm also curious to hear what newcomer Oskar Eustis has to say. In comments about his new role at the Public, he has stressed the importance of politically-committed theatre. Might he be willing, in this instance, to put his money where his mouth is?