The controversial story of a young women’s search for peace in Palestine comes to life thanks to TheatreLAB
TheatreLAB’s newest production is already causing a stir – its controversial topics are as old as some of the oldest conflicts between faiths – but it’s also a powerful story of one woman who lost her life in the pursuit of peace.
“Rachel Corrie takes a journey outside herself and uses her desire for empathy and change in the world to better herself,” said Heather Falks, the director of the new production, My Name is Rachel Corrie, which opened last week at TheatreLAB’s The Basement. She was approached about producing a one-woman show inline with the company’s Cellar Series called When The Other Becomes The Self.
“I immediately thought of this play,” Falks said. “It seemed a perfect fit with the show series.”
No stranger to RVA Theatre, Falks dug in and submitted My Name is Rachel Corrie because of the shows powerful, albeit controversial narrative. Written by journalist Katharine Viner and actor Alan Rickman after sifting through Corrie’s life-long journal entries, the play tells the story of a young woman who comes to understand her place and privilege in the world before devoting, and eventually giving, her life in the name of peace in war-torn Palestine.
“She struggled with it and had a lot of class guilt,” said Falks, describing what first attracted her to the production. “She worked through it it at a young age. It was remarkable how in touch she was with ‘the other’ even when she was still a kid.”
But the connection to Corrie goes beyond the powerful story; she was born the same year as Falks and some of the other production staff – and she died by the age of 23.
“There’s a universal connection where we all kind find a little piece of ourselves in Rachel’s story cause she says a lot about humanity and how we need to take care of each other,” Falks said.
Then there’s the broader controversy of the topic. It’s hard to bring up Israel or Palestine without evoking any number of possible reactions from a crowd. And while theatre is often a great place to tap into those feelings, Falks said that wasn’t her motivation for producing the play.
“… There’s some very polarized views on the situation,” she said. “While the politics of the conflict are very much a center of the piece, the real message is a story of conflict with a message of peace and I hope that’s what people walk away with.”
But that hasn’t stopped some people from lobbing complaints – Richmond has a long and rich history with the Jewish communitiy and there were bound to be some concerns from those who feel strongly about the issue.
“There’s been pushback already with people saying it’s one sided – and it is one sided because its her story, but its in no way trying to give a definitive answer,” Falks said. “You’re supposed to look at her journey and learn from it. She’s not just a headline, she’s just like us, and we all have the potential to live to the fullest.”
Kaelie James, the recent VCU Theatre grad who has dawned the role of Corrie for the play’s run, stood out from the first time she audition, according to Falks and Deejay Gray, TheatreLAB’s Artistic Director. Using a home-made, 10-min cut of the play, James offered such a moving audition it brought the play producers to tears.
While Gray said Kaelie may not physically resemble Corrie, he said other qualities from the actress helped bring the role to life.
“She is a dedicated human rights activist who is passionate about giving visibility to social justice issues and making her voice heard,” said Gray. “Kaelie is also the same age as Rachel was when she died. So, in the end, given The Cellar Series theme, we thought that finding someone who looked entirely different from the ‘real’ Rachel was a a much more exciting choice for our production.”
Your chance to catch this controversial and powerful production happens now through this Saturday, 3/11, at The Basement. You can snag tickets here.
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