LA winces as Rachel Corrie play finally comes to town

By Tom Tugend, September 1, 2011
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Faced with a play widely lambasted as anti-Israel propaganda, should an American Jewish community stage a public protest? Keep silent in the name of artistic freedom? Or is there another way?

These questions faced Los Angeles Jews with the opening this week of My Name Is Rachel Corrie.

Rachel Corrie, a US citizen, died after she travelled to Gaza in 2003 to "shield" Palestinians from the IDF. The exact circumstances surrounding her death are still debated. According to clashing versions, Corrie was either killed by a bulldozer driver because she would not move out of the way, or because he ran over her accidentally.

Corrie left behind a huge cache of diary entries and emails, which two Londoners, actor/director Alan Rickman and journalist Katherine Viner, turned into a 70-minute play.

My Name Is Rachel Corrie opened in London in 2005 to full houses and glowing reviews, but met a less enthusiastic response when it premiered in New York in 2006.

The play was shown this week at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, a small outdoor venue in an LA suburb.

Perhaps with the unhappy New York experience in mind, Theatricum decided to do some advance outreach to the Jewish community. As a result of the discussions, community representatives will participate in "audience talk-back" sessions after the performances.

Patsy Ostroy, founding president of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, said she would expect "a negative reaction in the Jewish community", while defending the play's right to be seen.

The founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre Rabbi Marvin Hier said that based on the Israeli government's investigation of the case, he was convinced that Corrie's death was accidental. "In a free country, the producers of the play have every right to put it on," Rabbi Hier said, "but to any friend of Israel I would say, 'don't see it.'"

Last updated: 12:05pm, September 1 2011