The recent series of plays at Oregon Stage Works, “Things We Do,” portrayed the effects of suspicion, prejudice and the tragedy of war waged upon civilians in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I met with Peter Alzado, artistic director of Oregon Stage Works, in the theater’s store front office on A Street. Peter spoke to the controversy surrounding the presentation of “My Name is Rachael Corrie,” one of the plays in the series, which included “The Jewish Wife” by Bertolt Brecht, “Masked” by Ian Hatsor and “A Tiny Piece of Land” by Mel Weiser and Joni Browne-Walders.
PA: With “My Name is Rachael Corrie,” there was controversy over the provocative nature of the material, but those who had issues with the play did not represent themselves as part of any group. To their credit, people who would have preferred I not do the play had the courage, open-mindedness and the generosity of spirit to attend the series of four plays. They participated in the discussions and expressed to me how engaged and moved they were with our production of “My Name Is Rachel Corrie.” In the same manner the individuals who felt I should do only “My Name Is Rachel Corrie” exhibited the same courage and generosity, participating in the entire series and expressing themselves in the discussions with grace and dignity.
The play is about a young woman who had an intensely empathetic response to the world and committed to that empathetic response. The piece certainly does speak, through the eyes of this vibrant young woman, to the dilemma of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the oppression and suffering of the Palestinian people, not through the eyes of some radicalized individual, but rather somebody who cared deeply about people, which makes it much more potent, important and engaging to those on both sides of the issue.
I felt an obligation to the people who believed that “My Name is Rachael Corrie” would incite prejudice and harsh feelings to represent that material in the fashion from which I think the material speaks. I don’t think the material is propagandistic. I think the material is about this wonderful young woman and her feeling for people.
The writing has a beauty and it is really a portrait of a lovely young woman who was tragically killed. We lost someone with a real force of life and a real potential. After working on the play, Rachel Corrie’s life, her writing and her feeling for this world became more significant than the tragic way she died. What was really important about the play was Rachel Corrie’s feeling for people. And, thank God, I had an actress in Shayna Marie who was able to bring that depth to the piece.
If people are willing to sit in the theater and see opposing, perhaps even offensive views, and are willing to be gracious and have the generosity of spirit to then to participate further in discussion about it, then there’s hope for this world.
Everybody is invested in where their sympathies lie. The amazing thing about “Things We Do” was that the feelings certainly ran high. Both sides of the issue had legitimate perspectives and feelings. The extraordinary thing to me is, in large measure, those sympathies and those concerns were the same. So the fact that people are not able to get together, leads you think that it’s not the people; it somehow has to do with what their leaders or governments are doing.
Now, because of the world situation, people have set aside serious drama. But if serious material is done well, the impact is resounding, elevating. It brings a certain stature to our lives and to what it means to be human and alive together.
Evalyn Hansen is a resident of Ashland. She has a bachelor's degree in dramatic arts from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master's degree from San Francisco State University. She studied acting at The American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Contact her at email@example.com.