Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Rachel Corrie play.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have read probably a dozen articles about the New York Theater Workshop's decision to delay their production of the British play, "My Name Is Rachel Corrie" -- there are 179 mentions of the play on Google News right now. The verbatim play is about an American woman who was crushed by a Israeli Army bulldozer in the Gaza Strip as she tried to protect a Palestinian home three years ago.

There has been much discussion about the Workshop's decision to postpone, possibly "indefinitely," the play. Most of it has been accusing the Workshop of censorship and bowing to political pressure. In the Guardian, the play's co-writer Katharine Viner wrote:
The political climate, we were told, had changed dramatically since the play was booked. As James Nicola, the theatre's artistic director, said yesterday: "In our pre-production planning and our talking around and listening in our communities in New York, what we heard was that after Ariel Sharon's illness and the election of Hamas in the recent Palestinian elections, we had a very edgy situation." Rachel was to be censored for political reasons.
It makes you wonder. If a young, middle-class, scrupulously fair-minded, and dead, American woman, whose superb writing about her job as a mental health worker, ex-boyfriends, troublesome parents, struggle to find out who she wanted to be, and how she found that by travelling to Gaza and discovering the shocking conditions under which the Palestinians live - if a voice like this cannot be heard on a New York stage, what hope is there for anyone else? The non-American, the non-white, the non-dead, the oppressed?...

Artistic communities need to resist the censorship of voices that go against the grain of George Bush's America, rather than following the Fox News agenda and gagging them before they have even been heard."
Of course, Harold Pinter has weighed in, saying, "[T]hat play has now been withdrawn by the producing theatre in New York and that is, I think, typical of what is happening more and more in Britain and America: suppression of dissent and the truth."

And, for a Canadian voice, let's add Antonia Zerbisias: "[N]ow Corrie's life and death have once again been hidden from view."

Now, I would like to see "My Name is Rachel Corrie." And it seems as if the New York Theater Workshop's decision to postpone the play was an act of cowardice, a desire not to rock the boat, more than anything else. Most of the criticism aimed at the Workshop is deserved. But that these folks I've quoted actually believe that anti-Bush or anti-Israel voices are being stifled in the American artistic community is, in a word, mind-blowing. It is as if they live in an alternative universe where theatre artists are not constantly speaking out against Bush, Israel and the War in Iraq.

I'll reiterate what I said at the top of this post: I've read a dozen articles about the play this week. There are 179 currently on Google News. This is much more attention than the play would have got if it had opened.

And the Workshop has suffered enormous backlash for its decision. This has been a public relations nightmare for them, which they are trying desperately to rectify, like in this article in today's New York Times. If there is any strong pressure on the theatre, it is for them to backpedal and actually put on "My Name is Rachel Corrie."

Meanwhile, several other theatre groups in New York have offered to put on the play.

There are countries in the world in which there is actually serious "suppression of dissent and the truth" and "censorship of voices that go against the grain." The United States is not one of them, least of all in the New York theatre scene: That is why other local theatres are jumping at the chance to put on "My Name is Rachel Corrie," and why the arts sections in England and the United States have been vigorously debating this issue for the past two weeks.

Rachel Corrie's life has not been hidden from view by this; it has been thrust into the spotlight. The furor over the Workshop's decision to cancel the play has been a sign of the strength of artistic dissent in the United States and Britain. But the theatre world is so blinded by its angry self-righteousness that it cannot see this...

To those of you who seriously write about "the climate of self-censorship that has led to the smothering of political drama like My Name Is Rachel Corrie," I must ask you this: Name one pro-Bush or pro-war play that has been produced in New York or London in the past five years. Can you name a single one?

Now, can you rattle off a dozen high-profile anti-war plays or at least "questioning" plays produced in that time?

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