Amid unreported daily incidents of violence in the Gaza strip, all it took was one death to make national news: Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old activist from Olympia, Wash. A member of the International Solidarity Movement—a group generally composed of 20- and 30-something American and European protestors—Corrie was living in the Palestinian town of Rafah, near the Egyptian border. In the spring of 2003, as Israeli Defense Forces bulldozed homes, wells, and churches in the town she had begun to call home, Corrie tried to prevent the destruction of a family’s home by standing in an IDF bulldozer’s way.
Accounts differ as to what happened in the minutes following her stand. Official IDF statements maintain the driver never saw Corrie. Eyewitnesses insist it was a brutal murder. But it’s an undisputed fact that she was crushed under an Israeli soldier’s Caterpillar.
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
- THE MANY SIDES OF RACHEL : Pictured, from left to right, is director Michael Siebrass and actors Lauren Moore, Tanya Gallardo, and Katherine Perello—who share the role of Corrie in the Reader’s Theatre production of My Name is Rachel Corrie.
The young activist’s life ended that Sunday, eight years ago this month. But her words continue to reach new ears: Corrie’s journals and e-mail correspondences were made into the play My Name is Rachel Corrie. The show opened in London to glowing reviews, and later moved to New York, where it sold out but was far more controversial. Now, under the direction of Michael Siebrass, Rachel Corrie is the latest undertaking in the Reader’s Theatre series at the San Luis Obispo Little Theatre.
There are no sets or costumes in Reader’s Theatre, making for a very pared-down production. With this in mind, Siebrass has taken the one-woman show and divided it among three actors: Katherine Perello, Lauren Moore, and New Times’ own Tanya Gallardo.
At a recent rehearsal, the decision proved a wise one. The three Rachels effectively present different sides of Corrie’s personality, highlighting her development from boy-crazy highschooler to the woman who turned uncannily somber as a result of human suffering witnessed in Gaza.
Perello’s reading infuses Corrie’s character with a certain innocence, while Gallardo, the oldest of the three, takes on most of the heavier monologues. Moore’s portrayal falls somewhere in between; as an actor, she’s able to vacillate between the whimsical musings and serious concerns Corrie expressed in her writings.
When asked what the greatest challenge of the production was, all three agreed that the lack of verbal exchange was the most difficult part of the show.
“It’s not written like a play,” Moore said. “It’s her diary, so trying to not make it a narrative is the biggest challenge; [I’m] trying to make it like a character speaking.”
Siebrass emphasized the element of discovery when coaching his actors. Instead of merely reading Corrie’s words like a speech, he insisted, every thought must be clearly derived from the preceding one, delivered only after careful consideration.
Often, the monologue of one Rachel is cleverly broken up by pantomime from the other Rachels. This technique is used to great effect in one scene in particular, which depicts a comically ill-fated trip to Dairy Queen. The scene, which occurred well before Corrie ever set foot in Gaza, offers much-needed levity in a performance with a tragic end we already know.
In another scene, Gallardo walks between the other two Rachels, listens quietly, then interrupts, “Who is this? How did I get here?”
The very spare production is also augmented by video footage of Corrie on two screens left over from the theater’s production of This is Rock ‘n’ Roll.
The Corrie show presents an interesting juxtaposition: Reader’s Theatre, which runs for one night only, is one of those in-between, under-the-radar things; a mere sigh and a shrug between full-blown plays. Rachel Corrie is a widely disputed production. Like the woman herself, the show is both reviled and revered among those in the know. Because Corrie’s cause aligned with the Palestinians’, some viewers see the show as anti-Israel. Some even make the leap to anti-Semitism. Others question why, amid so many tragedies, a single American death garnered so much attention.
“Of course there were Palestinians dying constantly, but nobody paid any heed,” Siebrass said. “All it took was one blonde American girl to get killed, and suddenly there was some focus—for a short period of time.
“We have a very short attention span,” he added.
Perello and Moore hadn’t heard of Corrie before a casting call got their attention. Having since done extensive research into Corrie’s story, Perello hopes the show will educate and motivate people who are now the same age as Corrie at the time of her death in 2003.
“This is just a young girl who thought of something to affect people’s lives, and affect a world beyond her own,” Perello said. “Perhaps this could inspire other people our age to do something great, if they have something that they want to pursue, whether it’s politically or personally.”
Siebrass, when asked what drew him to Rachel Corrie, had difficulty coming up with a quick, concise answer. He began by clarifying that political leanings weren’t a deciding factor; his own political views, he said, are neither pro-Palestinian nor anti-Israeli.
“Everything is not in black and white,” he insisted, “There’s gray in there.”
After giving it considerable thought, Siebrass elaborated further in an e-mail: “The last thing I want to do is inflame people.”
His hope, he said, is that people will leave the theater understanding that there’s more than one side to the story.
“I like stories about individuals who champion the causes of people who are downtrodden, who give voice to those who have been silenced, who see a wrong and act to right it,” he wrote. “I especially like it when those individuals are young. We see too many negative stories about the young … so when I run across a play like My Name Is Rachel Corrie, I jump on it.”
Arts Editor Anna Weltner reads theater. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.