jeffrey painter portrait

I first read My Name is Rachel Corrie a year and a half ago on what was supposed to be a quick trip down to the Café, and it was nothing short of the most moving thing I had ever read. I sat stunned by the burning energy in her writing, her ability to name the unnamed, by her unique voice, and the emotional gravity of the play. As an Evergreen grad, I thought I knew her story and understood what she was doing in Palestine, but boy was I wrong.

My first reaction to reading the play was to review everything I thought I had known about Rachel. I knew certain facts about her: that she was in Palestine to resist the Israeli occupation, the circumstances of her death, that she was an Evergreen student five years my senior. The image that I had of Rachel was unflattering and two-dimensional: a radical greener out to make some noise. I realized that I had never read a single piece of her writing before picking up this play or taken the time to hear, in her own words, why she had gone to Palestine.

After reading the play, my understanding of Rachel was transformed. I was surprised to learn that she did not consider herself first-and-foremost an activist. Rachel was a writer. From an early age she would fantasize about someday winning a Nobel Prize in Literature, and having surveyed her complete journals (published in the volume Let Me Stand Alone), I wholeheartedly believe that she would certainly have joined Bob Dylan in receiving that honor. But even beyond her writing (and perhaps the fundamental thing that drove her to write) was an insatiable curiosity, a courageous vulnerability and gift of self reflection, and a deep and genuine care for people.

This insight brought the truly earth-shattering shift in my understanding of Rachel – here it was, in her own words, why she had gone to Palestine. She had not gone, as I had assumed, for self-important reasons, or to cast shame upon the occupiers, or to swoop in to save the world. She went to Palestine because she was grappling with a fundamental question: As an indirect participant in what is happening in Palestine, what is my responsibility to the people there? Shouldn’t I care about their well-being? Shouldn’t I be willing to defend them just as I would defend someone from my own community?

Her writing (and this play) makes it clear. Rachel had gone to Palestine for the same reason that she was a writer and the same reason that she had a deep curiosity for life and passion for people: she wanted to better understand herself.

This play was carefully compiled precisely to avoid the trap of glorifying Rachel or of lending ammunition to the rhetoric that fuels the picture of her as a reductive symbol. This play, and our production, was initiated with a single clear objective: to better understand Rachel Corrie, just as she endeavored to better understand herself. When reflecting on the impact that Katherine Viner and the late Alan Rickman had through the creation of this play, Craig Corrie wrote, “They managed to capture Rachel’s energy, her humour and her ability to question herself, as well as her world. For those who did not know Rachel, but only knew of her, the play gave back to my daughter her humanity – no small achievement.”

No small achievement, indeed, but certainly an achievement made possible by Rachel’s writing. Her journals often feel almost prophetic – that somehow she knew that her secret writings might be published someday without her explicit consent. As tempting as it may be to cast her as an oracle, this is not the result of a prophetic third eye, but rather it is an indication of a trait that I, and any artist, is roundly jealous of: her incredible talent at unerringly critical, and sometimes even unflattering, self-observation.

“I write because in some secret compartment in my brain this little ironclad woman keeps screaming, It’s all you have! I feel like I have been performing my whole life in this huge auditorium, but once in a while the houselights go on and I realize I have no audience. Nothing but hollow rows of folding chairs. And I don’t care. I write it down because instinct tells me to. Sometimes I send a letter and my whole soul hopes they’ll like it, because it’s personal. Because I created something for someone else and dared to write a name at the top. Writing is brave. It is maybe the only brave thing about me.”

Although Rachel’s journals were initially written to an empty auditorium, her words have now circumnavigated the globe. Since this play first premiered in London in 2005, this very local story has been performed in Iceland, Australia, Germany – all over the world; and it has been translated into Arabic, Greek, French, Italian, Hebrew, and Spanish.

There’s a pertinent piece of family lore that made its way into this play. When Rachel was two years old she looked out at Capitol Lake and declared, “This is the wide world and I’m coming to it!” Well, she most certainly has, and now we are proud to bring her story home.