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Woman’s tale shines light on Palestine

If the way to tell a complicated story is to personalize it, then My Name is Rachel Corrie does just that in explaining the plight of Palestinians living in areas occupied by Israeli soldiers.

Corrie, a 23-year-old American peace activist, was killed – some say murdered – on Mar. 16, 2003 by an Israeli Army bulldozer as she and some colleagues tried to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home. Her death made headlines worldwide and inspired more than 30 songs, two plays, and a documentary, raising questions about the Arab-Israeli conflict that are hard to answer, and perhaps even harder to ask.
Her story, from an idealistic young girl in Olympia, Washington to her exploits with the International Solidarity Movement in Gaza, unfolds in the play to be presented next week at Kitchener’s Registry Theatre.

Majdi Bou-Matar's MT Space theatre group is not one to shy away from the controversy surrounding My Name is Rachel Corrie, to be staged next week at the Registry Theatre.

With words taken from Corrie’s journals and e-mail messages, noted actor Alan Rickman and British journalist Katherine Viner bring to life the young woman’s take on the longstanding conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.

The play has been contentious since it was first staged in 2005, both because of the issues it tackles and the debate over how Corrie died (the Israelis called it an accident, while witnesses say otherwise). The controversy is not an issue for Majdi Bou-Matar, who runs the Multicultural Theatre Space (The MT Space) in Kitchener. The group in known for such productions as The Last 15 Seconds, which looks at terrorism, and Seasons of Immigration, which tackles the trials and tribulations of settling in a new country.

Having read the script, he was eager to welcome the production by Burlington-based Tottering Biped Theatre.

“It’s a phenomenal play because of how sincere it is,” said Bou-Matar. “When I read the play, I couldn’t put it down.”

Given the attack by Israeli commandos on a humanitarian aid flotilla bound for Gaza in May – nine people were killed – the conflict in the region is once again in the spotlight.

“We think this is an immediate, urgent issue – a highly politicized topic,” he said.

Part of Bou-Matar’s fascination with the story was the international coverage about a young American woman being killed contrasted to the muted reaction to the fact Palestinians are killed on a regular basis.

“What’s the value of a human life? Some seem to be more valuable than others.”

Corrie’s story, however, serves to focus a spotlight on the region. The language and imagery are compelling, said Trevor Copp, artistic director of Tottering Biped Theatre.

“Rachel Corrie is a vital way ‘in’ to the Middle East crisis for North Americans because the play focuses on the entire life of a young American woman. She is familiar and her path to the Middle East is recognizable; we are or know someone who would do this; we admire her. This is why her tragedy strikes us acutely,” he said.

“The experience of occupation that Palestinians face is quite unknowable for most Canadians; but through her we have a way to realize the enormity of the suffering there. Her suffering becomes our own.”

The controversy, and perhaps the association with Rickman, might prove helpful as MT Space offers a summertime show for the first time. My Name is Rachel Corrie also represents a departure from staging only its own productions, which Bou-Matar hopes to do more of.

“We’re planning to start presenting more work from others,” he said. “We present our own shows about every two years – they take time to produce – so this is a way to keep the momentum going.”

My Name is Rachel Corrie will be performed July 29 and 30 at 8 p.m. at the Registry Theatre. Tickets are $20, available by calling 519-585-7763 or e-mailing tickets@mtspace.ca.

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