Tragic true story grips with one-woman show1/8/2014
“My Name Is Rachel Corrie” presents, among other things, a good example of what’s so rewarding about Des Moines theater. Its director is David A. VanCleave, who studied theater in Chicago. Back in Iowa, though, he’s found himself at the helm of two wildly different performances, one after the other. Last month he oversaw “Peter Pan,” a smiley-face spectacular with a big cast, and what’s next on his plate? A one-woman show, with a bare-bones set, dramatizing the real-life tragedy of a young American who was crushed by an Israeli Army bulldozer.
The tragedy, to be sure, was that of the 23-year-old Corrie, out of Olympia, Wash. In college Corrie worked for Palestinian rights — and non-violent solutions — and after graduation, she traveled to Gaza. Less than two months later she lay dead, run over during a peaceful protest against the destruction of a friend’s home. In America the incident changed minds (the first President to call for a Palestinian homeland was elected in ’08), and Corrie’s case remains an international cause célèbre. In 2005, in London, the show came together. The girl’s emails and journals were edited and collated to create the script, with much of the work done by the actor Alan Rickman (“Die Hard,” “Harry Potter” movies). For the Des Moines show, donations are requested for the Rachel Corrie Foundation and its “grassroots efforts in pursuit of human rights and… justice.”
On top of that, Corrie’s parents will attend and, afterward, take questions. Craig and Cindy Corrie have often seen the show, but for them this occasion has special resonance. Originally from Des Moines, they’re both Drake alums.
All of which makes this weekend a steep challenge for VanCleave and his Rachel, Emily Stavneak. A senior at Roosevelt who somehow finds time for both acting and an International Baccalaureate, Stavneak shares her subject’s get-up-and-go. Onstage, she bounces back and forth between a messy dorm bed at one end and a hand-lettered protest banner at the other. Also she enjoys a ragtag dance break. Rachel’s fave was Pat Benatar, and the song’s a painful irony — “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” — but rock wasn’t Corrie’s medium. Her heart, her gift lay in writing, and more than a few well-turned phrases, the character sketches especially, reveal the depths of her sympathy and the wellsprings of her energy.
In the late rehearsal I saw, Stavneak put that energy into her neck, leaning in to stare under her brow at moments of fervor, then drifting back into a near-shrug for something playful or loving. The transition can break your heart during an email to her parents; the cries for a better way may change your vote.
Overheard in the Lobby: My column on Dec. 26 mentioned discovering “Jerry Springer: The Opera” at the Des Moines Social Club. However, I should clarify that “Springer” was produced by Stagewest, not the DMSC. The sample I caught at the Bash was through the generosity of Stagewest, and I’m happy to be reviewing the company’s latest next week. CV
John Domini is Cityview’s “Play Mate” theater critic who pens our weekly Center Stage column. He is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.
“My Name Is Rachel Corrie” Des Moines Onstage 2124 Grand Ave. Preview, Thursday, Jan. 9, 7:30 p.m. Shows Friday-Saturday, Jan. 10-11 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Jan. 12 at 2 p.m.