Jewish pressure drives Gaza play out of New York

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The Independent Culture

The West End in London is to receive the transfer of a play about a pro-Palestinian American activist after it was pulled from a theatre in New York amid controversy over its content.

My Name is Rachel Corrie, about a 23-year-old woman who was crushed to death by an Israeli military bulldozer in Gaza three years ago, was originally produced by the Royal Court in London, where it had two sell-out runs and was due to move on to the New York Theatre Workshop.

Alan Rickman, the actor who co-edited the script from Ms Corrie's own writings and directed the production, had cleared space from his filming schedule to take the work to America with its original star, Megan Dodds. But the Workshop got cold feet over the play, amid suggestions of pressure from New York's Jewish community, in a decision that has provoked a backlash.

A public meeting attended by the activist's parents on Wednesday at a New York church brought messages of support from the writers Maya Angelou and Alice Walker, Mariam Said, wife of the late Dr Edward Said, and the actors Vanessa Redgrave and Eve Ensler. By video, Patti Smith performed Peaceable Kingdom, dedicated to Ms Corrie.

James Nicola, the New York Theatre Workshop's director, has been forced to post a public explanation of his decision to put off the play on the company's website. After committing to presenting the piece, the company had carried out "our routine pre-production research that includes exploring the social, political and cultural issues raised by the play" , he said.

"In researching My Name is Rachel Corrie, we found many distorted accounts of the actual circumstances of Rachel's death that had resulted in a highly charged, vituperative and passionate controversy. While our commitment to the play did not waver, our responsibility was not just to produce it, but to produce it in such a way as to prevent false and tangential back-and-forth arguments from interfering with Rachel's voice."

He denied that it was his talks with the Jewish community which had prompted the postponement. "As we listened to various opinions, we realised we needed to find ways to let Rachel's words rise above the polemics," he said.

His explanation failed to satisfy either those involved with the play or supporters of Rachel Corrie and her actions in Gaza. A website, rachelswords.org, has been set up, dedicated to co-ordinating a protest against the theatre's decision.

Alan Rickman told The New York Times: "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. This is censorship born out of fear, and the New York Theatre Workshop, the Royal Court, New York audiences - all of us are the losers."

David Johnson, one of the producers, who had secured financial backing from, among others, the film-maker Michael Moore, for the New York production, said everyone had felt it should be seen in America.

But it was decided to go ahead with 36 performances at the Playhouse Theatre in London, starting Tuesday. A regional tour will follow later in the year.

"It's normally quite hard to raise money for these shows, but we've got angels [theatrical backers] who really are being angels," he said. "I think it's a colossal piece of work and a very important work about something that is deeply topical." He said he was sure it would be seen in New York at some point. "The groundswell of opinion in America is just crazy," he said.

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