Making Decisions & The Rachel Corrie Controversy Comes to DC (part 1)

I’m back from a wonderful, wearying trip to New York. The drive back, arriving home at 3 AM, turned out to be too much. I was dead on my feet yesterday and had a class to teach last night. And we’re soon to announce the season any minute; any day. I know the blog isn’t the right forum to share the wrestling, the negotiating, the finessing of all that goes into season planning. I wish I had 4 more slots. I can emphatically say that. I love the actors we’re lining up; each play we’re committed to presenting. I just wish there weren’t four other worthy projects I’ll have to delay committing to. In each of these cases, I can see continuing development of the new work in the coming season and committing to production in 2008-09. So there you have it, we’ll start programming like opera companies, two and three years in advance. Which is how I’ve come to start thinking about my own writing projects too.

Just been interviewed twice in the past two days about the Rachel Corrie play controversy as it is roiling down in Shepardstown, West Virginia what with Ed Herendeen’s Contemporary American Theatre Festival committing to produce MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE. There are many long-time CATF subscribers—and board members too—who are upset with the decision and are boycotting the show; indeed the entire season.

Our theater’s response? You’ll see it as we unveil our extremely ambitious and comprehensive “Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival” which will run June 23 through July 29 in conjunction with the Capital Fringe Festival. We’re promising a lot more provocative dramatizations and a lot more informative discussions on the subject, representing a multiplicity of perspectives. Our Peace Café programming around the six plays promises, again, much more in the way of candid conversation.

As a teaser, here’s just a partial look at what we’ll be programming this summer.

I encourage you to return to this blog over the coming days and weeks to read the interviews about the Corrie controversy, and to read about our own theater’s deep engagement on the issue over the last year. I think this blog can provide a service by going back to give full voice to our history of considering the Corrie play, and what we’ve chosen, programmatically, to do in response to the play.

Here’s what’s coming your way from Theater J:

Voices from a Changing Middle East: A Festival

Theater J presents six weeks of productions and play readings focusing on the political, social and cultural dimensions of Israeli life, and relations within the Israeli family and between Israel and its neighbors. With Israel’s 60th anniversary approaching, the festival provides a venue for reflecting upon this country’s complex history as well as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s impact on Arabs and Jews. Peace Cafés and discussions will accompany many of the performances.

“While not every work pertains to ‘The Conflict,” notes Artistic Director Ari Roth, “we’re offering an up-to-the-minute, totally engaging series of portraits from an eternally promising and vexing region. Motti Lerner’s play, for example, offers a prophetic warning and a must-see depiction of what can go wrong on the West Bank if sanity, peace, and compromise don’t prevail. It’s balanced in its argumentation but fierce in its honing in on the moral fault line that under-girds many of the positions of the Settler community.”

June 23-July 22, 2007
PANGS OF THE MESSIAH
English Language World Premiere by Motti Lerner
Directed by Sinai Peter
A stunningly relevant depiction of Israeli West Bank settlers set in the future and the widely divergent responses within a family trying to resist the dismantling of their settlement by the Israeli army. Following the signing of a Peace Treaty between the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority, this drama moves from the Territories to the Temple Mount with frightening immediacy. By the celebrated Israeli author of The Murder of Isaac and Passing the Love of Women. Directed by the esteemed actor/director and former head of the Haifa Municipal Theatre, Sinai Peter, and a designed by a talented Israeli creative team, with sets, costumes, and music all provided by Israel’s top theatrical designers, all in residence at Theater J!

Theater J is proud to be part of the Second Annual Capital Fringe Festival from July 19-July 29, 2007 with its Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival.

In conjunction with Fringe, we’ll present six fully staged bare bones productions of:

Ariel Sharon Hovers Between Live and Death and Dreams of Theodore Herzl
by David Zellnick
directed by John Vreeke
A sharp look at 100 years of Zionist and Israeli history. Is Ariel Sharon the embodiment of the new Jew that Herzl envisioned to make Jewish national independence possible?

Via Dolorosa
by David Hare
performed by David Bryan Jackson
A reprise of our production that launched the Peace Café. British master playwright Hare’s visit to Israel and Palestine and his encounters with Arabs and Jews. Still as relevant today as it was seven years ago.

From Tel-Aviv to Ramallah: A Beat Box Journey
by Rachel Havrelock
performed by Yuri Lane
video projections by Shareef Ezzat
Nominated for a 2004 Charles MacArthur Helen Hayes Award for Best New Play
A hip-hop mosaic of Palestinian and Israeli voices performed by solo virtuoso Yuri Lane. The Conflict as lived out and expressed by a brand new, hip-hop generation.

Chasing Justice/Seeking Truth: Musings on the Parallel (but Radically Different) Lives and Deaths of Rachel Corrie and Daniel Pearl
A monologue play written and performed
by Aaron Davidman (Artistic Director, Traveling Jewish Theater)
With musical accompaniment by Arabic Violin Master
George Lammam
A taking stock of the many recent controversies that have divided Americans and American Jews as representations of young Americans killed in the Middle East create charged political symbols.

Two public readings of
Noor
by Dr Akbar Ahmed
A kidnapping drama set in a modern Islamic capital. Three brothers debate how to respond to a mysterious band of kidnappers who’ve upducted their youngest sister, NOOR. Jihadisim, Suffism and modern integrationist Islam all hold sway as a family struggles to restore its lost honor. A work in progress by the Chair of Islamic Studies at American University and the former Pakistani Ambassador to Great Britain, Dr. Akbar Ahmed. With discussion to follow.

A one-day, community reading of
The Arab-Israeli Cookbook
by Robin Soans
A Peace Café Community Reading with Cooking & Eating at Busboys and Poets. A lively array of Israelis and Palestinians, their kitchens, their cultures.

Plus other Tea @ 2 readings, peace cafe discussions, and another performance piece to be named shortly.

Check back with us in the coming days at www.theaterj.org for a complete listing with times and venues.

3 thoughts on “Making Decisions & The Rachel Corrie Controversy Comes to DC (part 1)

  1. It would hardly seem that you are in “deep enagagment” with My Name Is Rachel Corrie if you are not programming the play itself.

    This is mealy-mouthed contextualising – but without the text!

    The continued attempts to censor this play are a disgrace.

    Your response is pathetic.

    Shame on you!

  2. At last, some brush back. “Mealy-mouthed contextualising” would seem a favorite phrase of those who don’t want a theater company or its audience to consider a work from a variety of perspectives; to look at claims and counter-claims critically. If a work fails to present a penetrating dialectic on its own (and the best plays truly do provide such; they raise point and counter-point; thesis and antithesis; all in the same sweep), or if a play seems to exist, in part, in order to trigger debate and self-reflection, then a theater can help extend the experience of an audience’s consideration by offering companion programming. We don’t believe in muzzling a play; I personally support CATF’s production of the play, MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE; a work which is full of strengths and weaknesses. Corrie’s is a story that wants to be told and not silenced. Would that it be brilliantly told, with a young journalist’s inquiring mind, seeking to understand the roots and reasons for violence on both sides. But Rachel Corrie didn’t set out to be an inquiring journalist writing a bracing play. She was an activist trying to call attention to the plight of Palestinian families who were getting their homes bulldozed by the Israeli Defense Forces and she got bulldozed in the process. She doesn’t ask “why;” she observes the “what” and only part of the “what.” But that part of the story that she describes in her diary, and that part of the story which is the controversy surrounding her death, is an ugly and investigation-worthy episode in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship and deserves discussion. We’ve read this play in our reading series at Theater J and debated it for months as a community. We’ve been up to New York to participate in the New York Theatre Workshop Town Hall meetings, discussing at length with them their decision to postone production and the reasons for the Royal Court’s subsquent withdrawing of the rights. NYTW never tried to censor the play; only prepare for it more deligently. But they were tarred and feathered, shamed and decried “pathetic” for their efforts to try and get their approach to a production right for their diverse community. The Off-Broadway commercial run presented the play this past fall without contextualization; without framing it within a larger series of works, facts, discussions or commitments to dialogue. There were some panels, but there wasn’t an institutional commitment to educate and penetrate the nature of the controversy. The result was an unmediated commercial run that made its modest mark and then departed. The work is an interesting trigger for discussion — so is the controversy surrounding the work. Our engagement with the play isn’t pathetic and there’s no disgrace in our wrestling with the challenges posed by the play. No “shame” here. That’s the same language that the staunchest critics of the play use when they’re lambasting theaters like CATF for producing the work. The charge is overheated. Instead of mud-slinging, see the works in question. See a theater’s theatrical response to a difficult but stageworthy work.

  3. All this flannel above is all very well. But you are not actually presenting the play.

    Are you?

    Not as a production nor even as a reading.

    A very peculiar way for “a theater company or its audience to consider a work from a variety of perspectives”.

    In fact you’re not considering it at all.

    Are you?

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