Of Rachel Corrie and tilting at windmills

Kate Liquorish is Rachel Corrie. Photograph courtesy Hearts and Eyes Theatre Collective.

Kate Liquorish is Rachel Corrie. Photograph by Suzy Bernstein.

With the ringing and tumbling of words and phrases over one another, this portrayal of 23-year-old Rachel Corrie, the young American activist who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer in 2003, while trying to protect a Palestinian family home from destruction, resonates with a resemblance to the Anne Frank production recently staged at this theatre. The writing is blissfully full of innocent cliché, but it encapsulates the glorious enthusiasm of a young person set on changing the world in which she lives, moored as she is in political rhetoric.

As the story unfolds, you are given insight into the sequence of events which led to this young woman’s violent death, starting from her outrageous precocity as a nine- or ten-year-old. Ultimately, though, you come away with a profound awareness of the interface between Rachel Corrie and the world, and how this grand narrative on which she embarked, fuelled by her mother’s sense of advocacy, found her sparring with monsters and giants out of her ken and so far out of her experience that the tale becomes bizarre and ludicrous and the young woman is reflected as foolish.

It’s an immensely text-heavy work, but it is brought to seamless life by Kate Liquorish who slips under the skin of Corrie and gives her sense of whimsy and girlish fickleness and fierceness earnest credibility. There’s a celebration of girlhood, of quirky intelligent adolescence in the material.

As the play touches upon the conflict in the Middle East, however, a lack of meaningful scrutiny pervades. Yes, the play is based on the real writings of the young woman, and this is its flaw: what we’re watching quickly becomes one dimensional for this reason. There’s no other engagement. There’s only Corrie’s voice and her insecurities and bravado and fear bouncing against themselves.

This is what you get in a monodrama, you might argue. But this play lacks edge. It lacks an undercurrent. It punts itself as heroic, but doesn’t deliver. You leave with an overriding sense of futility: young, privileged, white girl goes to a place to voice her opinion on an issue which is much bigger than she thinks. She gets in the way of a situation she doesn’t understand. And is broken by it. What value does this tale have?

The Anne Frank production staged at the Market Theatre earlier this year lacked the kind of potent context that would have established it factually. Similarly, this Rachel Corrie work floats away from brave and hefty outspokenness and becomes an essay of a young woman tilting at windmills.

Supported by a set which gives an understanding of the ugly violence of Corrie’s death, the design of the work offers an interesting interplay of values. The broken skeleton of a structure pervades the set throughout the play, even from Corrie’s home in Olympia, Washington. The maverick redness of her bedroom indicates carnage from the very first line of the play. There’s almost an overriding sense of Greek tragedy in its construction and layout. But almost.

You read in the programme notes that Corrie’s death sparked enormous solidarity activities in the Middle East, but you don’t see this in the work. Rather, you see an intelligent, but cowed young woman, pugnacious and scattered and deviant, getting herself into a situation which is simply too big for her.

While you also leave with supreme respect for Liquorish’s ability, this talented performer feels wasted on a work like this. If you know little or care less about the Israeli/Palestine situation, you walk away still knowing little or caring less. If you know a lot or have strong opinions about it, they won’t be swayed or twisted. My Name is Rachel Corrie doesn’t work as an advocacy play.

My Name is Rachel Corrie is taken from the writings of Rachel Corrie, edited by Alan Rickman and Katharine Vimer. It is directed by Jacqueline Dommisse with design by Paul Abrams (lighting); Illka Louw (set and costume); and James Webb (sound). Kate Liquorish performs it in the Barney Simon Theatre, Market Theatre Complex, until November 23.

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