Hart House Theatre presented their second play of the season, the politically charged one-woman production My Name is Rachel Corrie, late last week.
Based on the journals and emails of the real-life activist who inspired the play, My Name is Rachel Corrie tells the story of Washington college student Rachel Corrie and the time she spent protesting in the Gaza Strip in the early 2000s.
In the opening scenes of the play, music resonates through the air and the audience is immersed in darkness. Red light pours onto the stage, and the audience meets Corrie for the first time. She wakes from a fevered dream with a megaphone in her hands, screaming to be freed from her room, which feels as if it’s closing in on her.
As the red lighting dims, Corrie addresses the audience for the first time. As she packs her bag for her trip to Palestine, she describes the events that brought her here: her trip to Russia that allowed her political spirit to grow, past relationships, and the encouragement of her mother, who fuelled her daughter’s spirit and desire to discover and pursue her passions.
In her portrayal of Corrie, actor Amelia Sargisson navigates the politically charged dialogue with ease, commanding the audience’s attention with wit and spontaneity.
As the only actor on stage for the entire performance, Sargisson’s portrayal of Corrie is real and visceral. She captivates the room. Throughout the play, Sargisson interacts with the set and the audience in ways most theatre productions don’t dare to allow their actors to do.
Mariuxi Zambrano, the set and costume designer, decorated the stage with wooden blocks and sand that Sargisson lifts, pulls, stomps on, and crawls through during the performance, illustrating the raw passion Corrie feels for Palestine’s struggle.
The lighting designs by Sarah Mansikka also work to transform the set from Corrie’s bedroom dorm in Olympia, Washington, to a house in Palestine where Corrie stays hen she’s fighting her political battles.
Sargisson’s interaction with the audience also extends beyond the ordinary. At one point, she rushes past the rows of seats during a monologue, talking and even directly addressing members of the audience as she whizzes through the room.
I myself became part of the narrative as Corrie clutched my wrist to tell part of her story; Sargisson broke character only for a split second to say a quiet “thank you” for my cooperation before returning to the stage.
The real Rachel Corrie was killed by an Israeli Defence Forces bulldozer; to represent that, the show ended with the stage going dark and a fictional news broadcast detailing Corrie’s death and the injuries she sustained.
A video of a real-life Corrie at a young age speaking about her future political hopes and ambitions is the final scene. While Corrie’s death is never acted out on stage, the video put the events of Rachel Corrie’s life into perspective and allows the play to come full circle.
Many of the audience gave Sargisson a standing ovation, inviting the actor to return to the stage to take a second bow.
“I really think [Sargisson] did an amazing job with the material,” said Ethel Dennis, who attended the play with her sister Dorothy. “They really took the story and played it out in an innovative way.”
While the audience generally enjoyed the piece, some felt the heaviness of the subject matter more than others.
“I really liked the fast-paced dialogue,” said Gregory Lau, “although there were moments where the story’s quick pace made it difficult for me to follow along. I have to admit, I’m somewhat a novice to Palestine’s history and the conflict that took place, so I did feel lost in places.”
My Name is Rachel Corrie ended its run at Hart House Theatre last Saturday, but Hart House will continue its season in a few weeks with a Shakespeare classic Romeo and Juliet, directed by Jeremy Hutton.
“I know I’ll be back to watch another performance this season,” said Dennis after the play. “I enjoy the theatre and it’s a fun outing. It’s nice to see something so interactive and live, even if the stories don’t always match your taste.”