US martyr to the Palestinian cause

My Name is Rachel Corrie
Performed by Hannah Norris
Produced and directed by Daniel Clarke
Designed by Cassandra Backler
FortyFive Downstairs, Melbourne, November 8-14

On March 16, 2003, an Israeli Defence Force bulldozer struck and killed a 23-year-old US woman, Rachel Corrie, as she attempted to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes in Gaza. Corrie, who worked in Palestine for the International Solidarity Movement, was the first international activist to die participating in non-violent resistance within the occupied territories. My Name is Rachel Corrie was compiled and edited by British actor Alan Rickman (Harry Potter, Love Actually) and Guardian journalist Katharine Viner. The play is presented as a series of monologues drawn primarily from Corrie’s diary and her correspondence with family and others.

Award-winning actress Hannah Norris’ performance starts off giddy and breathless. Norris portrays an idealistic and perhaps naive young person who, confronted by the realities of the Israeli occupation, matures into a determined activist steadfast in her conviction. The set is deceptively minimal, consisting of plain cardboard boxes. These boxes are skilfully de-constructed and rearranged by the actress, transforming the stage from a college dorm into gentle suburbia and finally into occupied Palestine. The story is assisted by multimedia projections seamlessly woven into the production. The projection keeps the audience engaged in Corrie’s perspectives on the occupation without it feeling like a lecture.

Corrie is not perfect, and we empathise with her struggle to comprehend the situation that unfolds around her. In one scene she falls to the ground exhausted and screaming and proceeds to pick children’s shoes out of the rubble. She sorts the shoes and arranges them like little memorials. She comments:

“You can always hear the tanks and bulldozers passing by, but all of these people are genuinely cheerful with each other, and with me ... They are a good example of how to be in it for the long haul ... I am nevertheless amazed at their strength in being able to defend … their humanity - laughter, generosity, family-time - against the incredible horror occurring in their lives.”

In life Corrie played an important role in the Palestinian struggle. Her death has brought wider international awareness of the Palestinian plight. The Israeli “Defence” Forces, heavily criticised for her death, have been forced to enact procedural changes that make them less likely to use lethal force against non-violent resistance, particularly where there is an international presence. Corrie believed in the importance of raising awareness as a way of defeating the occupation. My Name is Rachel Corrie, having been staged in 14 different countries, helps achieve this goal.

[Many of Rachel Corrie’s e-mails and letters can be found at the Rachel Corrie memorial website]