Thursday, March 09, 2006

Theater of the Absurd

Backstage magazine reports plans to import the British one-woman show My Name is Rachel Corrie to Off-Broadway have been postponed. Corrie was the 23-year old “peace activist,” meaning Palestinian partisan, who was killed when she was, let’s say strongly encouraged to kneel before an advancing Israeli bulldozer attempting to clear houses along well known weapons smuggling routes.

According to the report, the theater became concerned they might be entering into a thorny debate about recent events in Gaza which they weren’t prepared to navigate. It’s a reasonable concern, but of course celebrity director Alan Rickman is upset with the decision, charging censorship. Co-creator Katherine Viner sniffed: “I think they're misjudging the New York audience. It's a piece of art, not a piece of agitprop.”

That certainly raises a series of questions. If not for her Palestinian activism, why should anyone be interested in her high school diary entries? Once you put her life in its political context, you have to look at the consequences. What has happened since Israel pulled out of Gaza? Worse than anarchy. Palestinians attacked Egyptian border guards, in what was arguably an act of war. Kidnappings are commonplace, including an attempt to abduct Craig and Cindy Corrie, the parents of Rachel (Scotsman report). To top it off, an overtly terrorist organization was elected to head the government. The story is much more tragic and complex than just the sad death of Ms. Corrie.

Since the New York Theatre Workshop may have an opening for another production, I would like to see a revival of To Live Another Summer, To Pass Another Winter. Featuring some stirring flag-waving numbers, To Live was the first Israeli produced musical to play Broadway. The original cast album (not yet on CD) would also be the final recording for jazz musician-arranger-composer Gary McFarland, who was supervising and conducting as work for hire with his new label Buddah Records. Shortly after the session, Gary McFarland visited a bar with a musician friend, consuming a drink mysteriously laced with liquid methadone. According to reports he died immediately of a massive heart attack. Another tragic loss of life, but McFarland left behind a thoughtful musical legacy. Doug Payne’s site has a full McFarland discography.

To Live would be a much more life-affirming choice, than absurdist agitprop. Given the climate in Off-Broadway theater, I’m not holding my breath.