Monday, May 1, 2017

"My Name is Rachel Corrie" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

Rachel Corrie was a young and idealistic college senior from Olympia, Washington who was volunteering with an International Organization in Rafah, a Palestinian border town in the Gaza Strip. There, in 2003, she was killed by an Israeli bulldozer while protesting the destruction of Palestinian homes. She was twenty-three years old.

Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner have built a production from Corrie's e-mails, her journals and stories told to them by her parents. Written in 2005, at first this is a difficult show to watch, because there is only one actor: Charlotte Hemmings. It feels like an extended monologue, and the beginning is peppered with rather clichéd and precious musings -- the vaguely idealistic ramblings of a young woman in her bedroom.

But then everything changes. Hemmings puts on a scarf and the action shifts to Palestine, at which point the emails, the action and the flow of the story become spellbinding. We cannot overstate how involving this one-act-one-actor production becomes.

Charlotte Hemmings has been playing Rachel since 2010, when direction was taken over by Jonathan Kane. She seems born to the part. Hemmings says she has learned the lines by writing them all out longhand, until she feels Rachel Corrie inside her.  She is a joy to watch, particularly as the show moves to its inevitable conclusion.

An interesting sidelight is that after Rachel's death, her sister took it upon herself to transcribe every journal entry and every-mail that Rachel had made, from the time she was eight years old. This selfless undertaking seems to mirror the Corrie family. And it makes for great theater.

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "My Name is Rachel Corrie" Three Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE. The whole idea of building a solo performance around this historical event earns one star, plus direction and acting earn one star each. The BANGLE is for the stunning way Rachel Corrie summed up the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, with all the world pretending to look in the other direction: "I am questioning my fundamental belief in human nature."

This was in the last e-mail she sent to her mother.

Please do not listen to anyone who tries to cloak Rachel Corrie's experience with ideology. This is a human story. Don't miss it.

"My Name is Rachel Corrie"
The Magic Theater
Fort Mason, Building D, San Francisco
Through May 14

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