NY Theater Slammed for Postponing Play About pro-Palestinian Activist

'My Name is Rachel Corrie' tells story of American woman killed by IDF bulldozer in Gaza.

Three years after she was killed by an Israel Defense Forces bulldozer, pro-Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie is sparking controversy in New York, where a theater has been accused of censorship for postponing a play about her.

"My Name is Rachel Corrie" is a one-woman show based on diaries and e-mails written by the 23-year-old U.S. activist, who died on March 16, 2003, while trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian building in the Gaza Strip.

The play, directed by Alan Rickman, was scheduled to start previews at the New York Theater Workshop next week after two successful runs at London's Royal Court Theater last year.

But last month, with Middle East tensions heightened by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's illness, the New York theater told its British partners the production was postponed after discussions with people in the arts, "religious leaders" and "representatives of the Jewish community."

The NYTW says it needed more time to prepare panel discussions and other events to provide context to the play.

Royal Court spokesman Ewan Thomson said on Thursday the NYTW used the term "postponed indefinitely" in February.

"One can only guess at the pressures of funding an independent theater company in New York but calling this production 'postponed' does not disguise the fact that it has been canceled," Rickman said in statement last month.

The NYTW has also been accused of censorship and cowardice in some media outlets, in letters to newspapers and on an Internet petition signed by hundreds of people.

"This is censorship of the worst kind," actress Vanessa Redgrave said in a statement on the Web site counterpunch.com.

NYTW Artistic Director James Nicola told Reuters there was a verbal agreement in early January between the two theaters but no formal contract. He said he had notified the Royal Court about the delay in February but told them he still wanted to produce the play at a later date.

Corrie has long been a controversial figure, with critics accusing her of naivete and not giving equal weight to Israeli victims of Palestinian attacks, and supporters praising her for defending Palestinian civilians. An Israeli investigation concluded her death was an accident.

"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," Nicola said in a statement.

Nicola said the NYTW had simply needed more time "to find ways to let Rachel's words rise above the polemics." He said it was wrong for critics to focus on his consultations with members of the Jewish community.

"No outside group has ever or will ever participate in the artistic decision-making process at NYTW," he said.

The play was edited from Corrie's own words and is a highly personal story from childhood through her time in Gaza.

When it opened in London in April 2005, reviews were generally positive, although The Times newspaper said some scenes offered a one-sided portrayal of the Middle East conflict it called "unvarnished propaganda."