Both sides

By CAROLYN CLAY  |  March 12, 2008

Whether you choose to see Corrie — who went to Gaza in connection with the International Solidarity Movement, with the ostensible goal of supporting non-violent Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation — as a heroic martyr or the pawn of terrorists, there’s no doubt that she was changed by her discovery of day-to-day life in a war-torn part of the world that wasn’t about dancing to Pat Benatar and swimming naked in Puget Sound. It only helps the theater piece that Corrie had both an offbeat poetic bent and an uncanny awareness, in one so young, that the gap between life and death is but “a shrug.” Toward its end the piece morphs, as its heroine reacts to the devastation she’s witnessed, into a self-described anti-Israeli “diatribe” that brushes off Palestinian violence as “defense.” At the same time, the character, in the grip of these feelings, deepens from a Valley girl plopped down a bit north of where she belongs into a person overwhelmed by sorrow and quite knocked off her sunny, naive pins.

Downstage @ New Rep, under David R. Gammons’s direction, Stacy Fischer rather emphasizes Corrie’s high-flying, socks-and-boxers-clad cuteness. Living her scattershot if well-intentioned local activist’s life in Olympia, she never stops moving, whether to “Ruby Tuesday” or the self-consciously audacious sound of her own mouth. A lot of the perk and preciousness are there in the writing, but they might be better played against than into — it makes Corrie annoying. Once the character gets to Gaza and her idealism meets its Waterloo, Fischer, growing stiller, captures her horror and her heartbreak. But don’t look for two sides here — or even for an acknowledgment that there are two sides. My Name Is Rachel Corrie is a memorial to a sensitive, slyly humorous young woman who wanted to do some good in the world and thought she could by making lists and banners and a commitment, all of which she did with a whole heart.

Less attention has been paid to the engaging Pieces, which Tirosh, now in her 30s, wrote and first performed in New York in 2000, looking back even then on her two years as a member of the Israeli Defense Force that’s demonized in Rachel Corrie. Partly because of context, Pieces is a loss-of-innocence story that transcends the personal. Although it tells a lively autobiographical tale of an 18-year-old plucked from life and love in mid 1990s New York, the play also teeters on the hope for a resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict that in recent years (and weeks) seems all but lost. As she puts it, Tirosh’s tenure as an Israeli soldier preceded “the sequels” — the second Iraq and Lebanon wars and the second Intifada. Beginning in 1994 and ending in 1996, it coincided with the peace initiative shattered by the assassination of one of its chief architects, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, and the surge of random violence that followed. Revisiting her story for this New Rep revival helmed by Suzana Berger, Tirosh adds a perspective frame unavailable to Rachel Corrie, in which, after 12 subsequent years of “occupation and despair,” she is still trying “to piece it all together.”

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