Politics makes artists stupid. Take “My Name Is Rachel Corrie,” the one-woman play cobbled together from the diaries, emails and miscellaneous scribblings of the 23-year-old left-wing activist who was run over by an Israeli Army bulldozer in 2003 while protesting the demolition of a Palestinian house in the Gaza Strip. Co-written and directed by Alan Rickman, one of England’s best actors, “Rachel Corrie” just opened Off Broadway after a successful London run. It’s an ill-crafted piece of goopy give-peace-a-chance agitprop–yet it’s being performed to cheers and tears before admiring crowds of theater-savvy New Yorkers who, like Mr. Rickman himself, ought to know better….
The cancellation of last season’s New York Theatre Workshop production of “My Name Is Rachel Corrie” triggered a noisy row in the New York theater community, many of whose members jumped to the not-unreasonable conclusion that the producers were cravenly bowing to backstage pressure from donors who found the play’s politics obnoxious. As a result, the belated opening of “Rachel Corrie” at the Minetta Lane Theatre has had the predictable result of bringing it far more attention than it would otherwise have received.
That’s the only lesson to be drawn from this exercise in theatrical ineptitude….
If you want to see real artists turning complex ideas into compelling theater, pay a visit to the New Group’s revival of Jay Presson Allen’s stage version of “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” a slicked-up, simplified version of Muriel Spark’s darkly comic 1962 novella that nonetheless manages to suggest more than a few of the book’s multiple layers of moral ambiguity. The play ran for a year on Broadway but hasn’t been seen there since 1968–the film, for which Maggie Smith won a best-actress Oscar, is much better remembered–so it is good to welcome it back to the New York stage, especially in so intelligent and incisive a production….
To be sure, Cynthia Nixon is miscast as Miss Brodie, the high-handed Scottish schoolteacher whose romantic streak leads her to embrace fascism. Imperiousness is not in Ms. Nixon’s line, and she has opted instead to play Miss Brodie as a coquette, an interpretation no more plausible than her Scotch accent. Nevertheless, she’s a fine actress, and even though her performance isn’t at all right, she mostly manages to make it work….
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UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal has posted a free link to the first half of this week’s drama column, in which I discuss My Name Is Rachel Corrie. To read it, go here.