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"My Name is Rachel Corrie" at Harlequin

Tragic story humanized

Kira Batcheller as Rachel Corrie. Photo courtesy Harlequin Productions

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At long last, Rachel Corrie has come home to Olympia in the form of Harlequin Productions' presentation of My Name is Rachel Corrie. This is Olympia's first-ever locally-produced full theatrical performance of the play based on the life and writings of the Olympia native who was run over and killed by an Israeli bulldozer in the Palestinian city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip. She died March 16, 2003.

Completely in Rachel's own words, the play was edited by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner. Harlequin's production is directed by Jeffrey Painter and features Kira Batcheller in the solo performance as Rachel Corrie.

Rachel was born in Olympia in 1979 and spent her life here, graduated from Capital High School and attended The Evergreen State College. It was as a senior at Evergreen that she went to Gaza as part of the Rafah Sister City program, and there became active in the International Solidarity Movement's attempts to prevent the Israeli destruction of Palestinian homes. She lived with a family in Rafah. The Israeli army and government claimed the driver could not see her. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch criticized the government for whitewashing the investigation, and Corrie's family took the government to court, but lost the case.

As horrifying as the story of her death is, it must be noted that the play is as much about Rachel Corrie the writer, the little girl, the student, as it is about Rachel Corrie the activist. Until it inevitably turns tragic, the play is funny, touching and inspirational. And the one thing that stands out as much as the tragedy is just what an outstanding writer, dreamer and adventurer Rachel was.

The play opens with Rachel waking up in an apartment she shares with another young woman while in college. The place is a mess. Dirty laundry, books and magazines are scattered everywhere. Rachel, thinking out loud as she writes in her diary, comments on what a mess it is. She even admits to cutting things out of magazines and gluing them to the walls. We see her, thanks to Batcheller's naturalistic and convincing performance, full of life and vibrancy, self-aware and self-questioning.

At this point, I feel compelled to say something about the set designed by Jill Carter - much more than I usually say about a set. It is deceptively simple and ingenious, a group of modular box risers with scrawled handwriting all over everything. The words are taken from Rachel's journals, and there are few complete sentences or even complete words. It is just enough to hint at her life. More words are projected on a screen at the back of the set, along with the silhouetted skyline of Rafah and animated drawings styled after drawings by Rachel but done by Carter. In the apartment are a bed and a bookshelf, both of which fold or slide into the set to change the apartment in Olympia to a home in Gaza that has been riddled with mortar fire. All of this is enhanced by dramatic lighting by Mark Thomason.

In the best of plays, audiences can't see actors acting. They simply are the characters they portray. Batcheller, last seen at Harlequin in her stellar role as Julia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, doesn't look like Rachel Corrie; yet she becomes her for 90 minutes. Similarly, the hand of the director is seldom seen - audiences cannot tell if a particularly great action is attributable to the director or the actor. But in this show, one gets the feeling that director and actor are bonded by unseen electrical currents.

My Name is Rachel Corrie is not an easy play to watch, especially in Olympia where much of the audience might have known Rachel or her friends or family, and because of the controversy around her work in Gaza and her death. This is much more than a heartbreaking tale. It is a tribute to the theatrical skills and big hearts of all involved.

My Name is Rachel Corrie, Thursday through Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m., through Feb. 11, Harlequin Productions' State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia, ticket prices vary, call for details, 360.786.0151, harlequinproductions.org

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