Last updated April 4, 2007 11:09 p.m. PT
Let's talk "Rachel Corrie" -- the controversial play in Seattle, not the late activist.
Even before the production opened in mid-March at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, folks were divided: Corrie was either a terrorist abettor or a human rights hero. She was killed four years ago trying to defend a Palestinian home from an Israeli military bulldozer.
Some people believed her story should never see a stage unless equal voice was given to both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. People such as Robert Wilkes, a theatergoer from Bellevue whom I met at the Rep Sunday after a matinee.
Wilkes said the play -- based on Corrie's writings -- errs by giving moral equivalence to Palestinians who he believes have brushed aside genuine Israeli peace efforts.
"People love this play not because it is such a great piece of drama," said a frustrated Wilkes, who is Jewish. "It is because it's political."
By "political" he means "anti-Israel."
News flash: The best art, whether it deals with war or love in the time of AIDS or dark family secrets, touches political, social and moral nerves. If done well, a production can compel audiences to think.
That's lost on folks so blinded by their cause they would rather see the stage dark than a ray of light shine on one of the most contentious issues of the day.
Wilkes had a hand in the unusual ad in the program for "My Name Is Rachel Corrie."
Granted, the play is subjective. People do not go to the theater or movies for objective or balanced perspectives.
What happens on a stage is emotional manipulation in the service of drama.
Yes, Israel has Arab countries near it that want to wipe it off the map. Yes, it suffers from Palestinian suicide bombers. Yes, retaliation from Israel has left Palestinians reeling. As a journalist, I'd be remiss not to point this out.
But as a matter of art, Corrie's writing bears witness to the Palestinian suffering she saw. Her observations are ripe for a work of creativity, however unnerving.
"The main objective of theater is not to be boring," David Esbjornson, artistic director for the Seattle Rep, said at a public forum after Sunday's show. In an interview, he told me: "If theater is doing its job right, there will be excitement about what is coming from the stage. It will be challenging."
"Art is not journalism, not history," Rabbi Daniel Weiner of Temple de Hirsch Sinai in Seattle added at the forum.
Weiner joins local Jews who support the play. He believes if the production evokes a range of feelings from pain to outrage to agreement, those emotions "shouldn't exist without a parallel desire to go out and learn more."
The rabbi is spot on. The play should be a springboard to broader inquiry and conversation. It can motivate people to learn a thing or two about the Middle East or social activism or humanitarianism.
Seattle teens who recently soaked up Corrie's words were moved to do something -- no, not rush out in front of bulldozers.
They put paper to pen, went onstage at the Rep this week and told audiences what they deeply believe in, about their own journeys and struggles.
Therein lies the power of art -- to inform, engage, inspire.
Rabbi Weiner sees a personal, yet universally applicable message in the Corrie play, beyond politics and policy: "About how we balance our ideals with our abilities to implement them -- thwart cynicism in the face of difficulties."
Those words could just as well describe the play -- its run has been extended, which is good news.
Wilkes may loathe the show, but he's sure right about one thing: People love "Rachel Corrie" -- enough to go hear her words.