The New York Times
August 4, 2007
'Corrie' causes concern
Ashland Daily Tidings
The play "My Name is Rachel Corrie" has stirred up controversy at theaters around the world. That controversy has now come to Ashland.
Based on the diaries of a 23-year-old American woman from Olympia, Wash., who traveled to the Gaza Strip and was killed when an Israeli bulldozer ran her over while she was protesting the destruction of Palestinian homes, the play was delayed in its North American premiere in New York City. It was almost canceled in Boston and West Virginia; and it was canceled in Florida, as well as at the largest nonprofit theater in Canada.
Now add Oregon Stage Works to the list of theaters that are balking at performing the play.
"There are people who want me to do the play and there are people who don't want me to do the play," said Peter Alzado, executive director of OSW. "My inclination right now is I don't think it's a piece I'm interested in doing."
OSW was planning to perform the play this month. But Geoffrey Blaisdell, who was supposed to direct the one-woman play at OSW, said Alzado changed his mind when, according to Blaisdell, "A number of people had threatened not only to picket his production of (the play) if it opened, but all other Oregon Stage Works productions."
Alzado said, "It doesn't matter if people protest, or boycott, or show up with signs." He said the reason for his recent second thoughts is because the play may not be factual.
"It's not about free speech," Alzado said. "But whether or not it's a fair representation. If we're going to present something that is politically provocative, we need to make sure it is factual."
He said some people said that Corrie, the only character in the play, was a peaceful American activist trying to defend innocent Palestinians; while others, he said, think she was defending a terrorist stronghold.
"The way the play presents it, she was mowed down by a tractor driver while defending the homes of Palestinians," Alzado said. "I received a number of e-mails indicating the house she was protecting was actually a place to deliver arms to use against Israel. What's the true story? I don't know."
He said he has been trying to arrange a meeting with Rabbi Marc Sirinski of Temple Emek Shalom, saying, "I want to speak with someone who is indeed a leader in the Jewish community."
Because the play deals with the turbulent political situation between Israel and Palestine, much of the backlash in the United States has come from pro-Israel Jews, though Alzado said criticism of his initial decision to put on the play did not come from any one demographic.
Alzado got an e-mail from Gary Acheatel, one of the founders of Advocates for Israel, a group that started in Ashland to respond "to a complacent Jewish community that was uncommitted to Israel." Acheatel, who distributed literature outside a recent Ashland speaking engagement by Corrie's parents, said he isn't representing any organizations in regard to the potential production of the play. He said he sent Alzado an e-mail after he heard that OSW was planning the show. The e-mail included reviews of the play, Acheatel said.
In an e-mail to the Ashland Daily Tidings, he said: "It is my personal goal that this volatile and complicated topic be fully explored and discussed in open exchanges, instead of one-sided propaganda pieces disguised as theater that purposely distort historical events for the purpose of influencing the unknowing public."
Acheatel said an Israeli court ruled that Corrie's death was an accident, and that "Israel is ... not targeting civilians."
Acheatel said the play "would be divisive to the community. I know (protests) have taken place in New York, Seattle and West Virginia. People took out ads in the playbills. I would consider doing any of the above. I would try to provide theatergoers with the full context of the situation."
Corrie has an aunt and uncle who live in Ashland and who have a much different view on the play, and Corrie's experiences in the Middle East, than does Acheatel. They said OSW is being bullied by a small minority of people who are very supportive of Israel.
"It's the same reasons it's been canceled in other places," said her uncle, Gene Robbins, who is Jewish. "There are local Jewish groups who are opposed to anything that would cast Israel in a bad light, rightly or wrongly. It's a very small group that I don't think represents the broader Jewish community."
Corrie's aunt, Bonnie Broderson, said: "It's censorship. I don't think we want thought police deciding what will be heard in our community."
She added: "A play like this one helps us discuss Middle East issues that people are sometimes afraid to talk about. I really have faith in Peter Alzado and the artistic community. I don't think they will cave into political pressure."
Staff writer Robert Plain can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226 or email@example.com. To post a comment on this story, go to www.dailytidings.com.
From Sabeel: If you wish to voice your opinion, call or email Oregon Stage Works:
Also note: The original article appearing in Ashland's Daily Tidings incorrectly printed the name
of the theater as Oregon State Works.