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Columbia Missourian

Play chronicles life and death of American girl in Gaza

April 17, 2008 | 11:09 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Through diary entries, e-mails and letters, a theater group created a play from the thoughts of Rachel Corrie, a young American activist who was killed by a bulldozer while protesting the demolition of Palestinian homes in Gaza.

The one-woman play, My Name is Rachel Corrie, was performed by Julie Rada on Thursday night at Stephens College to an audience of about 50 people.

Corrie’s death was deemed accidental by the Israeli Defense Force, but eyewitness reports say the driver saw her ahead of him before he crushed her with the machine. Corrie was protesting the Israeli occupation and demolition of Palestinian homes with the International Solidarity Movement in 2003 when she was killed.

“We created this theater community to create dialogue,” Rada said at a panel discussion with community members following the performance. “We wanted to get people talking about things they may or may not be comfortable talking about.”

During the play, Rada took the audience through the whims and fantasies of 12-year-old Corrie, the details of the young woman’s adolescence and the evolution of her political beliefs in high school and college. Those that expected insight into an activist’s political mind were surprised to find a play that focused on the words of a young, free-spirit.

It was 30 minutes into the performance before the first mention of Israel. And from there, the play continued to be an ode to this woman’s dreams and ideas, more than a political critique. Corrie wrote in her diary about the six people she wanted to spend eternity with including Jesus, Zelda Fitzgerald and Charlie Chaplin. Eventually, the play took a shift from scenes of Corrie’s encounters with childhood crushes to the thoughts that lead her to activism.

Her earlier entries revealed a woman with a knack for poetic phrases and witty remarks, but after encountering life in Gaza her words and life filled with disappointment and disbelief.

In high school, Corrie wrote about falling in love with someone “whose eyes are perpetually bored, lips perpetually amused.” In Gaza, her diary entries drastically changed.

“Sleep in tent. Guns shot through tent. Start smoking,” was one entry formed in the first few months of being in an occupied territory. The play was completely composed of Corrie’s own words.

When the play relied on e-mail correspondence from Corrie and her parents, Rada, the sole performer, played all the roles. Music, lighting and occasional voice narration would act as transitions into different sections of Corrie’s life.

When people questioned their decision to choose Rachel Corrie’s story over a Palestinian’s story, play organizers said they decided an American woman’s story would connect with other Americans.

“It has relevance in this country,” Rada said. “They can relate to this story, and sometimes people think, ‘Oh, it’s so overwhelming, I don’t understand.’ But you can understand how she stepped into a different path.”

During the post-performance discussion, community members were able to discuss the play and the topic with the theater collective; Ibtisam Barakat, author of “Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood”; and members of Boone Tikkun, a Jewish and interfaith group.

Countdown to Zero formed to create a series of 10 political plays but plans to disband once they reach this goal.