Controversy has dogged Shepherdstown, W. Va., ever since the Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) announced its intention to perform "My Name is Rachel Corrie" this season at Shepherd University's Studio Theater.
The play, which confronts the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian stalemate, has had an unenviable track record of cancellations under pressure in the U.S. ever since its first performances at London's Royal Court Theater.
Adding to the palpable frisson of danger during CATF's opening weekend was the array of law enforcement officials deployed inside the theater's entrance at Sunday's matinee. Perhaps surprisingly, their presence wasn't needed.
"Rachel Corrie" is a monologue cobbled together from the journals and e-mails of its eponymous real-life heroine by British writer-actor Alan Rickman and journalist Katherine Viner, who writes for England's socialist newspaper, the Guardian. Miss Corrie's inevitable embrace of what many in the media quaintly term "political activism" ultimately inspired her to travel to Palestine.
There, she vigorously opposed the Israeli occupation but was crushed to death in 2003 when she attempted to stand in the path of an Israeli bulldozer.
Miss Corrie's material has been deftly edited with an eye toward softening her clear connections to the International Solidarity Group (ISM), essentially Marxists and anarchists who openly support Palestinian terrorism and who sponsored her trip. Like all front organizations, they claim to be peaceful. Their track record proves otherwise.
Miss Corrie's writings, as well as a didactic video postscript inserted by the play's "authors," unintentionally paint the portrait of any coddled, self-absorbed young person who's attended college yet still searches in vain for the meaning of life.
Miss Corrie consciously chose a socialist, anti-U.S., anti-Israel path, sadly for the same reason as many well-heeled young leftists: it's fashionable, wins you lots of friends and gets you good grades in humanities courses.
The highlight of this run, if anything, surely will be the brilliant performance by Anne Marie Nest as Rachel. She breathes real life into writings that, at least in this format, were probably never meant for publication.
"My Name is Rachel Corrie," as edited, is a selective memoir lacking a firm grasp of reality, an unintentional indictment of a young everywoman whose professors never taught her how to examine both sides of an issue before jumping in. It's an adolescent manifesto whose propaganda value is less than zero.
WHAT: "My Name is Rachel Corrie" at the Contemporary American Theater Festival
WHERE: Studio Theater, Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, W.Va.
WHEN: Show times vary. Through July 29
TICKETS:$26 to 36
TICKETS: Call 800/999-2283 or visit www.catf.org
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS