WISE BEYOND HER YEARS Casey Turner is breathtaking as Rachel Corrie. Photo by Emily Delamater.
In 2003, Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old American activist from Olympia, Washington, made international headlines when she died under an Israeli bulldozer, while acting as a human shield in front of a Palestinian home in the Gaza Strip. Many accounts and controversies followed in the press, but Rachel’s own words tell her own far larger story in My Name is Rachel Corrie, a stage play assembled from her emails and journal entries by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner. The preternaturally talented Casey Turner inhabits Rachel with warmth and disarming empathy in this one-woman portrait, directed for Dramatic Repertory Company by Keith Powell Beyland at the Portland Stage Company studio theater.
On a stage that starts strewn with the comfortable mess of a 20-something’s room — notebooks, clothing, cigarette packs, photos tacked to the red back wall — Rachel delivers meditations, rants, exaltations, to-do lists, and narratives both ordinary and harrowing. She pines after an ex-boyfriend or describes small stones on a log just as vividly as she recounts environmental organizing in Olympia or retrieving a Palestinian corpse. Curious, playful with language, and acutely self-aware, she is wide-open with compassion, fluent in ambivalence, and sometimes surprising in what she notices. Describing the voice of a woman who works with owls on Mount Rainier, Rachel marvels that “she had become part owl.” Later, in Gaza, she observes that “the Holy Land is full of rocks” and denounces Israeli military actions in enraged detail, but also jokes that she deals with the chaos by imagining herself in a Michael J. Fox movie.
As this woman of such singular humor and ardor, Casey Turner is breathtaking. She brings Rachel’s curiosity and vigor to luminous life, and gives an exquisite physical performance as she navigates vertiginous emotional terrain, letting us see Rachel’s frequent quicksilver fervors — whether delight or outrage — rise and run through her frame and face. Indeed, from our first look at her, grinning and stretching luxuriously under the covers, Turner’s physicality reveals the lithe exuberance of how Rachel exists in her body and the world: fully present, open to all manner of its sensations. In Turner’s portrayal, even Rachel’s fiercest anger seems earned, never self-righteous, as if every flare is a fresh, tangible discovery moving through her nerves and into her consciousness, into her remarkably expressive voice.
Turner’s beautiful work is supported by Beyland’s quiet but richly varied blocking, which takes her all over the stage, from standing on her bed to crouching on the floor, typing on a computer or tying on a head scarf, while Michaela Wirth’s subtle shifts in lighting slip us gracefully through time. In a transformation of the stage so gradual as to be almost shocking once it’s complete, Rachel now and again removes a book or shirt from the stage, until almost without us realizing it, the room is suddenly stripped of her friendly mess to the bare bed and concrete walls she leaves Olympia to inhabit.