MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE Edited from Corrie’s writings by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner, directed by Kate Lushington, with Bethany Jillard. Presented by Theatre Panik at the Tarragon Extra Space (30 Bridgman).
Previews begin May 29, opens June 4 and runs to June 22, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2:30 pm. $25-$35, Sunday pwyc-$20, previews $15. 416-531-1827. theatrepanik.ca.
Many people will go to My Name is Rachel Corrie to watch a story about the death of the American peace activist killed by a bulldozer in Gaza.
For actor Bethany Jillard, the solo show, assembled from Corrie’s writings by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner, tells the story not of the 23-year-old Corrie’s tragic death, but of her life.
“When I first read the play, I was struck first by Rachel’s enthusiasm and courage and then by her skill as a writer,” recalls the performer, who’s made a strong impression in several shows, including Daniel MacIvor’s How It Works.
“I didn’t know anything about her, and I think my gut reaction was to connect to another young artist. I love her reaction when she came back from an eye-opening trip to Russia and decided to become a writer, saying she didn’t give a shit what kind of life she lived, because ‘I was finally awake, forever and ever.’”
Killed in 2003, Corrie had journeyed to Gaza as a volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement, to live with Palestinians and bring a message of peace to the world.
Jillard, as passionate as the woman she portrays, was inspired by Corrie’s courage and caring.
“It drove me to learn more, and the information I discovered sometimes confused and sometimes appalled me,” she admits. “Now, after lots of reading and a visit to Israel, I have only more questions.
“At first that was upsetting. But the complexity of Rachel’s experiences and the conflict she went into don’t offer simple answers. It was a release to realize that, and with it came the fact that the play doesn’t try to offer answers either.”
Director Kate Lushington, who auditioned more than 60 actors for the role, says Rachel’s desire to be a writer is central to how we react to the play.
“Her father remarked that she worked at her craft with great discipline, training herself to observe without commenting or making value judgments,” says Lushington.
That comment is in part a response to those who think the play offers only a partial view of the Middle East situation, taking the Palestinian side in the emotional Israeli/Palestinian debate.
Corrie’s words have sometimes been lost in political quarrels sparked by the play, despite the fact that the script offers no plan for conflict resolution.
“I see Rachel as a transmitter, and the audience receiving her signal,” offers the director, former head of Nightwood Theatre. “What we choose to do with that information will be different for every viewer. The job for Bethany and me is to make that reception as clear as possible.
“The hardest challenge for us is to create, in a play that contains a lot of conflict, a quiet space where the audience can have their own feelings and thoughts.”
How does Jillard, performing her first solo show, tell a story whose ending many people already know?
“I don’t want to pull emotional strings with that ending,” she says. “As an actor in performance, I live with the character in the moment and never know what’s going to happen. Yes, she went to a dangerous place to work, but she woke up every morning wanting to make a difference in the world. She didn’t go to Gaza to become a martyr.
“Rachel’s not cynical, and one of the most horrifying moments for me comes at the end of the play, when she realizes that it’s possible that not all people are good by nature.”