At long last Rachel Corrie has come home to Olympia in the theatrical form of My Name is Rachel Corrie at Harlequin Productions. This is Olympia’s first-ever locally produced performance of the play, which is based on the life and writings of the Olympia native. Written completely in Corrie’s own words, the play was edited by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner. Harlequin’s presentation is directed by Jeffrey Painter and features Kira Batcheller in a solo performance as Corrie.
Corrie was born in Olympia in 1979 and spent the first part of her life here. She graduated from Capital High School and attended The Evergreen State College. As a senior at Evergreen, she went to Gaza as part of the Rafah Sister City program. There she became active in the International Solidarity Movement’s attempts to prevent the Israeli destruction of Palestinian homes. She lived with a family in Rafah (in the Gaza Strip) but was run over and killed by an Israeli bulldozer and died there on March 16, 2003. The Israeli army and government claimed the driver could not see her. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch criticized the government for whitewashing the investigation, and Corrie’s family took the government to court—but lost in what many claimed was a kangaroo court.
As horrifying as the story of her death is, it must be noted this play is as much about Rachel Corrie the writer, the little girl, the student, as it is about Corrie the activist. Until it inevitably turns tragic, the play is funny, touching and inspirational. What stands out as much as the tragedy is just what an outstanding writer, dreamer and adventurer she was.
The play opens with Corrie waking in a college apartment. The place is a mess. Dirty laundry, books and magazines are scattered everywhere. Corrie, thinking out loud as she writes in her diary, comments on what a mess it is. She admits to cutting things out of magazines and gluing them to the walls. We see her, thanks to Batcheller’s naturalistic and convincing performance, as full of life and vibrancy, both self-aware and self-questioning.
At this point I feel compelled to say something about the set designed by Jill Carter, much more than I usually say about a set. It is deceptively simple and ingenious, a group of modular box risers with scrawled handwriting all over everything. The words are taken from Corrie’s journals, but there are few sentences or even complete words. It’s just enough to hint at her life. More words are projected on a screen at the back of the set, along with the silhouetted skyline of Rafah and animated drawings styled after drawings by Corrie but done by Carter. In the apartment are a bed and a bookshelf, both of which fold or slide into the set to change the apartment in Olympia to a home in Gaza riddled with mortar fire. All of this is enhanced by dramatic lighting by Mark Thomason.
In the best of plays, audiences can’t see actors acting. The actors simply are the characters they portray. Batcheller, last seen at Harlequin in her stellar role as Julia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, doesn’t look like Rachel Corrie; yet she becomes her for 90 minutes. Similarly, the hand of the director is seldom seen—audiences cannot tell if a particularly great action is attributable to the director or to the actor. But in this show one gets the feeling director and actor are bonded by unseen electrical currents.
My Name is Rachel Corrie is not an easy play to watch, especially in Olympia where much of the audience might’ve known Rachel or her friends or family. It’s also true that her work in Gaza and the circumstances of her death were controversial. This is much more than a heartbreaking tale, though. It is a tribute to the theatrical skills and big hearts of all involved.
(This review appears courtesy of The Weekly Volcano.)
What: My Name Is Rachel Corrie
Where: Harlequin Productions’ State Theater,
202 Fourth Ave. E, Olympia
When: 8 p.m. Thursday – Saturday, 8 p.m.;
2 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 11
How much: $20-$34
Learn more: 360-786-0151 | Harlequin