Some call it censorship, other’s don’t. It’s a familiar tale, and this time the subject is My Name is Rachel Corrie, a one-woman play the New York Theatre Workshop may or may not be putting on about an activist for Palestinian causes who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer during a protest three years ago.
Reactions abound as the story builds: theatre blog Playgoer finds it unbelievable that a serious drama (which is also playing in London) can be squelched for being too controversial. Another blogger finds the canonization of Rachel Corrie hypocritical and has no sympathy for her sad death.
Me? I think the play should be staged, and I’m very disappointed by the New York Theatre Workshop’s failure to take a principled stance here. If they are worried that the play presents an unbalanced message (and it probably does, since propaganda abounds on both sides of the Arab-Israeli debate) they can balance it by putting on other works that present opposing viewpoints. It’s obvious that the New York Theatre Workshop doesn’t like controversy, but controversy is at their front door and they need to snap out of the deer-in-the-headlights position. At a time when Israeli-Palestinian dialogue is most needed, a theater on West 4th Street is turning out the lights and running for cover.
As for the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue itself, I wish I could hear any dialogue at all. Where is the center? W. B. Yeats already broke the news that the center cannot hold, but when Jews and Arabs talk about Israel and Palestine the center isn’t even there to fall apart. I see big walls, stacked weapons and blind denials on one side, and an orgy of vengeful, militant rhetoric on the other. Let’s light up the theaters, let’s jump up on podiums and stages, let’s figure out what’s what and who’s doing what to who, and let’s find a way to bring the cycle to a stop.
Politics is theatre and always has been, and every successful politican knows this. How can a donor-dependent theatre workshop be so concerned with its own safety and survival that it backs away from a chance to spark a political debate? If the New York Theatre Workshop can’t rise to the occasion and develop this situation into an opportunity to further the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue in New York City and in the world — and this is the opportunity that faces them now — then they are in the wrong business.