Rachel Corrie play... censored?

After the Mohammad/cartoon incident, the Joint-Chiefs-criticized Tom Toles cartoon, and the anti-American, anti-Jewish Turkish film controversy raging in Germany, issues of censorship are making a serious comeback.

The latest involves the American production of an Alan Rickman directed play about the life and death of pro-Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie.

In case you decided not to get out of bed in 2003, Corrie was the college student killed while attempting to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian house by an Israeli bulldozer. The Israeli Defense Forces, remarkably, found that they were not at fault. Efforts to urge an independent American investigation failed (full disclosure: Corrie and I attended the same school, albeit at different times; yet we know many of the same people and faculty).

The play, My Name is Rachel Corrie, which "consists of her diary entries and emails home... won the best new play prize at this year's Theatregoers' Choice Awards in London." It was then considered by the New York Theatre Workshop for a March opening.

James Nicola, the NYTW's artistic director has come under fire for "postponing" the play. In particular from Alan Rickman who calls it "censorship" and told the Guardian: "I can only guess at the pressures of funding an independent theatre company in New York, but calling this production 'postponed' does not disguise the fact that it has been cancelled."

It's a dicey situation, of course, because when you are going to cancel something due to controversy, you don't generally say that you are canceling something due to controversy, you say it's being "postponed." By the same token, it may well be postponed, in which case you end up sounding like a hysteric and dulling what may well be a worthwhile thing to criticize. I sympathize.

Still, Nicola's excuses are inconsistent and a bit unconvincing in spots. In the Guardian article he concedes that it's controversy that prompted the postponement:


"In our pre-production planning and our talking around and listening in our communities in New York, what we heard was that after Ariel Sharon's illness and the election of Hamas, we had a very edgy situation," Mr Nicola said.

"We found that our plan to present a work of art would be seen as us taking a stand in a political conflict, that we didn't want to take."
Taking a stand in a political conflict? For a play? About an activist who dies in a political conflict? Perish the thought. What stand would that be? And when will that "edgy situation" go away? After Sharon dies, after Hamas is voted out, when the conflict is resolved? Come on.

But then in a statement on the NYTW website, Nicola claims it was primarily an issue of time: "we had less than two months to consider mounting the production."

Before talking about the issue of timing: "When we found that there was a very strong possibility that a number of factions, on all sides of a political conflict, would use the play as a platform to promote their own agendas..."

And then this vague statement...

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