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What's in a 'Name'

October 26, 2006 By:
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Sticking her head in the Israeli sand -- akin to an ostrich claiming she's ostracized even as she turns her back on truths -- can Rachel Corrie really clearly see the chaos surrounding her?

"My Name Is Rachel Corrie" is really a drama in name only, dialogue -- in this case, monologue -- as diatribe, as the one-woman show of many emotions follows the plight of the non-Jewish American girl/woman who left college for a self-tutorial in the tense classroom that is the Mideast. It is there where, in 2003, protesting the Israeli plowing of Palestinian homes in Gaza, she was killed and buried under the weight of dirt and history when, scooped up by a bulldozer in whose path she lay, she was diced to death.

Playing a limited engagement at the Minetta Lane Theater in Greenwich Village, the onstage "Rachel" -- whose lines are culled from the young activist's many e-mails and journals -- is a naif of a waif, a Washington State wannabe make-a-difference individualist, whose blindsided siding with Palestinians against Israelis makes for a one-sided soliloquy.

No exit from her existential viewpoint? She devolves as an ideologue without an idea of how standing up for self means not caving in to others and serving as their tool.

The play is tooled as wrenching melodrama, edited, not written, by Katherine Viner, with assistance from director Alan Rickman, whose grasp of his protagonists's die-hard diurnal derring-do is capable, but not able to cover-up the creation of what seems like a drop-in, drop-out of a student in search of ... something.

An American woman uprooting herself from the Starbucks State to star in a personal drama of deliverance in Gaza is as gonzo a mission as the Mideast can -- or maybe cannot -- handle. As adroitly portrayed by Megan Dodds -- when her monologue is not muffled as she meanders off-stage on occasion -- Rachel is an atavistic amateur, a perennially perplexed flower child, here planting herself on a desert cactus prickly with potentially explosive extensions.

Off-Stage Theatrics

But what could be more explosive than the drama leading up to the New York production? It was staged in London to little clamor; indeed, rather than foster or foment communal fulminations, "My Name Is Rachel" was named winner of a number of audience awards. New York, New York, however, greeted prospects of a production with near panic, eager to send the show's vagabond shoes headed elsewhere.

An original engagement was broken, or postponed, earlier this year with the play and its perceived pro-Palestinian bent bending all kinds of caterwauling communities out of shape.

Free speech given lip service? Could not the Jews of New York -- whose play protestations seemed to play right into the hands of Israel's antagonists -- handle this play? Could they not -- with kudos to those who know Jack on the topic -- handle the ... truth?

Truth, maybe, but this comes off as pallid propaganda. And, to tell the truth, not even that. Let the sun shine in, as one of the character's natural theatrical ancestors might have asked? More like hair gets in her eyes.

Heady headlines made American audiences well familiar with her name before "Rachel Corrie" ever faced a New York crowd, but, in essence, any new kid on the off-Broadway block must face up to the ultimate test. And that is not, of course, "Is it good for the Jews?" but is it good enough for the stage?

And at that, poor "Rachel Corrie" comes up not as coruscating drama but, politics aside, as a misguided albeit misty-eyed take on a topic more dimensional than the diatribe delved into on stage.

As to the off-stage reactions ... a representative from CAMERA, the right-of-center pro-Israel group, had her own stage, a few steps down from the theater, positioned independently outside handing out informational pamphlets about what CAMERA calls the untruths told on stage.

Pre-theater therapy? Overtures before meeting the nonmusical "Rachel"? Perhaps audiences can brush up on Shakespeare before their brush with Rachel Corrie; two advisories of his can be instrumental here in understanding that if all the world's a stage, some are better lit than others: The brouhaha over this bromide-brimming play was much ado about nothing by those who hadn't even seen it; methinks they protest too much.

But ultimately the truth may lie in Rachel's own unintentionally insightful words. In explaining "My Name Is Rachel Corrie," she delves into just what the meaning of that name is.

Rachel, she informs, translated from the Hebrew, stands for "sheep."

In this case, no truer truth be told.

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