A play about American activist Rachel Corrie, who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza, is winning quiet acceptance in New York, where uproar postponed its debut a decade ago.
Her parents and the play’s director say the dimming controversy reflects a shift in American attitudes towards Israel and the Palestinian conflict.
“I think the landscape really has changed,” Rachel’s mother Cindy Corrie told AFP of the 12 years since her daughter was killed in 2003. Witnesses said she died trying to stop a Palestinian home from being demolished.
In February, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the state was not liable for Corrie’s death because it was a military act committed in a war zone.
Cindy believes Rachel’s story has helped shift that understanding, in addition to Israel’s wars and military operations in the region over the last decade.
“Just the numbers of people who are willing to move away from what I think has traditionally been almost unquestionable support for Israel,” she said.
The award-winning “My Name is Rachel Corrie” is a 90-minute, one-woman play based on the late 23-year-old’s writings, edited by British actor Alan Rickman and Guardian editor elect Katharine Viner.
It made its debut in London in 2005 to rave reviews, but a decision in 2006 to postpone the play in New York prompted charges of censorship from its British creators.
– ‘May be the world has changed’ –
The New York Theater Workshop eventually put on the production but attributed the delay to concerns that people would use the play as a platform to promote their agendas.
Bringing the play back to New York has not sparked serious protest.
The director, Jonathan Kane, and the founder of the group putting on the play told AFP they had received telephone complaints, but that sales had been better than expected.
“The press in general has not jumped at it which has been surprising,” Kane said. “Maybe the world has changed in 10 years and people are much more understanding and it’s not as controversial.”
On opening night a lone protester stood across the street from the theater alternating between unfurling and rolling up a banner proclaiming “Rachel Corrie was a neo Nazi and a terrorist lover.”
Inside the Lynn Redgrave Theater, actress Charlotte Hemmings brought Corrie to life to warm applause from a well-attended, if not sold-out audience.
The play is based on Corrie’s emails, journals and letters. The focus is on her life. Neither anti-Semitic nor overtly political, it portrays an articulate, Salvador Dali-loving idealist from Olympia, Washington.
In the last 10 years, it has been translated into more than a dozen languages and performed in more than 20 countries, the Corries say.
– ‘Not overly biased’ –
“Once people start to come to see the play it answers its critics,” Rachel’s father Craig told AFP.
Allan Buchman, the founder of Culture Project, defended the April 2-12 run.
“The people I’ve spoken to after explaining our position, they’ve kind of begrudgingly accepted that we’re doing things without an ulterior motive and that we’re responsible in a way that is not overly biased,” he said.
“I’m not happy with the inhumanity on either side,” he told AFP.
“If we can draw attention to the fact that violence and hatred that is being fostered in that region results in tragic loss of life, then I think we’re making a statement that has some value.”
Last year, protesters at the Metropolitan Opera disrupted opening night of “The Death of Klinghoffer” about the Palestinian hijacking of an Italian cruise liner that ended with the murder of a wheelchair-bound New York Jew.
Buchman believes the prestige, wealth and size of the Met made it a more attractive target for pro-Israel groups.
“I don’t know that they care as much about our 10 performances for a maximum of 200 people per performance,” he said.
Rachel would have turned 36 this Friday, when her parents have decided to watch the New York production.
“I think she would be amazed and laughing… to think that something she wrote is playing in New York,” said Craig.
“It’s amazing to me. so I think I’d celebrate that a little bit on her birthday.”