In 2003, the death of Olympia native Rachel Corrie in the Gaza Strip made news across the world. Fourteen years later, Corrie’s life is making news here in her hometown, where the 2005 play “My Name Is Rachel Corrie” is at long last being produced.
The one-woman play, edited from Corrie’s writings by the late Alan Rickman and journalist Katharine Viner, is in its opening weekend at Harlequin Productions.
Corrie, a student at The Evergreen State College, went to Gaza to aid Palestinians whose homes were being destroyed. She was crushed while standing in the way of an Israeli bulldozer.
The facts of Corrie’s death are well known, but her life is less familiar, even here in her hometown.
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Indeed, what drew director Jeffrey Painter to the play was what it revealed about Corrie, who began keeping journals as a young girl.
“I was struck by the emotional depth of the play,” he said last week. “It was the most moving thing that I had ever read.”
Before reading the script, Painter said he’d thought of her as a radical student and not much more. “I had no idea she was a writer, and she was an incredibly great writer. A lot of what I was moved by was her writing.”
He wanted to tell Corrie’s story in her own words — and it didn’t hurt that he saw the demanding role as perfect for his romantic partner, actress Kira Batcheller, with whom he recently shared the stage in Harlequin’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.”
The couple did in-depth research on the play, including a trip to the Royal Court Theatre in London, where the play debuted. They proposed their production to Harlequin artistic directors Scot and Linda Whitney, who decided to include it in the 2017 season.
Painter was shocked to learn that there hadn’t yet been a full Olympia production of the play, though the 2007 Seattle Repertory Theatre production made a visit to Evergreen.
“We’re really excited to have the play come to Olympia,” Craig Corrie, Rachel’s father, said Tuesday.
It seems other theatergoers share his enthusiasm. Tickets have been selling more quickly than usual, the theater announced in a Tuesday email newsletter.
“We’ve probably seen the play at least 100 times,” Corrie said. “We’ve seen it in seven different countries and six different languages. It’s been almost 14 years since Rachel was killed, and it’s surprising and humbling that young women are still performing this play around the country and around the world.”
Why the long wait for an Olympia-based production of a play by and about an Olympia woman?
Simply put, no one here chose to tackle it till now. At least part of the reason for that is likely the fact that the play has generated considerable controversy because of Corrie’s involvement in the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
The first production planned for the United States, scheduled to open in March 2006 at the New York Theater Workshop, was “postponed indefinitely.” When it opened the following fall at the Off-Broadway Minetta Lane Theater, the play drew protests.
Closer to home, the Seattle Rep production’s program, printed by an outside contractor, included ads that questioned the play.
“The Anti-Defamation League and several other groups have sponsored some ads in the program that call into question the validity of the play,” director Braden Abraham of Seattle told the Olympian in 2007. “It’s unprecedented for a group to take out ads in our program condemning our material.”
Yet if the idea of the play has upset people, most reviewers see it not as a polemic but as one woman’s story.
“In the course of 90 minutes, you feel you have not just had a night at the theater: You have encountered an extraordinary woman,” Michael Billington of London’s The Guardian wrote in a review of the Royal Court Theatre production. That play went on to win the 2006 London Theatregoers’ Choice Awards for Best Director, Best New Play and Best Solo Performance.
Reviewing the Minetta Lane production, New York Times critic Ben Brantley called the play an “invigoratingly detailed portrait of a passionate political idealist in search of a constructive outlet.”
Linda Whitney also sees the play as personal rather than political.
“The tendency is to think that it’s a political statement,” she said in a December interview. “It can be construed that way, but really this show is about that young woman and her dedication to the well-being of the world and other lives and cultures outside of her own.”
The production will include talk-backs after each performance and a facilitated community conversation after the closing performance.
“This is an opportunity for healing,” Painter said. “My hope is that this can empower people to have conversations about her, which I sense is very difficult, particularly for people in our community.”
My Name Is Rachel Corrie
What: Harlequin Productions presents the 2005 play based on the writings of the late Rachel Corrie, an Evergreen State College student who was crushed to death by an armored bulldozer in the Gaza Strip. It’s the first time the play has been produced in Olympia.
When: 8 p.m. Friday (Jan. 20) and Saturday, plus Wednesday-Jan. 28 and Feb. 2-4 and 9-11, with matinees at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 29 and Feb. 5.
Where: State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia.
Tickets: $34, $31 for seniors and military, $20 for students and youths; for Wednesday’s performance, pay what you can.
Information: 360-786-0151, harlequinproductions.org.
Also: There’ll be talk-backs after each performance and a community conversation facilitated by Kathy Baros Friedt, a community volunteer working in conflict resolution, after the Feb. 11 performance.