A detailed and wise performance helps explain the activist’s psychic underpinnings.
Media shorthand feeds the impulse to consider activists on political terms — regardless of what those politics are.
“My Name is Rachel Corrie” allows actor Emily Gunyou Halaas to reveal the deeper, universal nature of an activist. Politics is but an implement selected by a person so driven by passion, sensitivity and awareness that activism becomes its own destiny.
“I don’t believe in fate,” Corrie says early in the 100-minute play, which was crafted by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner from her writings. But whether Corrie believes in fate or not is immaterial. Her actions and reactions — not her ideology — determined her path in life.
Corrie, who grew up in Washington State, was 12 when her consciousness drove her to speak out against hunger. Perhaps jealous of her siblings’ conventional success, she followed her instincts into social-justice causes. At 23, she traveled to live with Palestinian refugees in the Gaza, as part of the International Solidarity Movement. Her efforts might have been remained those of a single person, but in 2003 Corrie was killed when she knelt in front of a bulldozer driven by an Israeli soldier. As happens with martyrs who leave a written legacy, her efforts assumed mythic proportions.
As directed by Emigrant Theater’s Jessica Finney, Gunyou Halaas gives us a heroine who is proud, sometimes precious in her wishes for the world, but never smug. Indeed, her self-deprecating precocity has the effect of refreshing a sense of youthful freedom, that time before we learned the wise but stifling discipline of compromise.
In Gunyou Halaas’s hands, Corrie is honest enough to be inspired by naïve idealism — not a silliness but a belief in the basic decency of humanity. When she ultimately questions that assumption, the actor expresses a moment that goes way beyond self-doubt and becomes a question of life’s purpose.
Gunyou Halaas is such a good technical actor. She builds her character from within, certainly, but she has the knack to translate that instinct into gesture, expression, uninhibited movement. It’s a guttural, visceral performance — acting that is felt in the belly — yet simultaneously very heady.
That is why we learn something about the human impulse. You may disagree with Rachel Corrie’s politics, but this play is about an activism that goes deeper than politics.