Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old American student and activist, died in 2003 trying to stop an Israeli bulldozer in Palestine's Gaza Strip. The stage play My Name Is Rachel Corrie qualifies as a kind of living memorial. English film actor Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner adapted Corrie's letters, journal entries and e-mails into a theater piece, playing through Oct. 7 at Synchronicity Performance Group (which presented a vignette about Corrie's death in its 2005 show Women + War). The "in her own words" nature of the material provides both the play's powerful foundation and its unavoidable stumbling blocks.
The play's early scenes capture Corrie's youthful idealism as she grows up in Olympia, Wash., and becomes more politically active. Her habit of listing her ambitions and daily activities has an unavoidable poignancy, given that we know her fate. Patterson offers a superb performance, infusing Corrie's words with both humor and self-consciousness that keeps Corrie from sounding didactic. We get a sense that she's trying out ideals and deepening her commitment to them as the play continues. Although she rolls out of bed and gets dressed early on, she seems more vulnerable as she puts on more clothes and discovers more harsh realities.
Although Corrie comes across as articulate and introspective, she certainly wasn't writing a narrative for a theater audience. My Name Is Rachel Corrie inevitably leaves out many details that the audience might not be able to fill in. The action snaps into focus when Rachel arrives in Palestine, but by then we've sat through more than half an hour of youthful maundering. The play hauntingly portrays the Palestinian desperation in the Gaza Strip, but provides little context to the "intifada" and home-bulldozing practices. Corrie mentions intriguing colleagues and other personalities, but they disappear just as quickly.
Director Rachel May's staging keeps the long monologue from becoming static. Throughout her ingratiating talk, Corrie cleans her messy room, packs her belongings, then removes sheets from the set to transform American comfort to shell-shocked Palestinian concrete. During one section, she climbs ever higher on a wall until she stands at the top like an icon worthy of a contemporary Les Miserables. Such images reinforce the idea that My Name Is Rachel Corrie stands as a loving monument, but one that might be permanently unfinished.
My Name Is Rachel Corrie. $15-$20. Through Oct. 7. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. Synchronicity Performance Group, 7 Stages, 1105 Euclid Ave. 404-484-8636. www.synchrotheatre.com.
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