Senior showcases depth of study in her capstone

College of Communication senior Jennifer Shine doesn't have senioritis these days. She's anxiously pacing the stage of the Helfaer Theatre in a T-shirt and ripped jeans, smoking Marlboro Lights, scribbling to-do lists in numerous journals, planning activist events and mulling over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in Gaza.

This is actually Shine playing Rachel Corrie in the one-woman show, "My Name Is Rachel Corrie." Corrie was a 23-year-old American activist killed in 2003 by an Israeli Army bulldozer in Gaza as she tried to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home.

Shine offered two performances of the play as her senior capstone project on Monday and Tuesday. Shine is a theatre major with a minor in justice and peace, and this play is the best of both her worlds. Drawn from Corrie's own journals, letters and e-mails, the powerful production features Shine alone on stage for 90 minutes as a heavily conflicted young woman. She is trying to make sense of her own personal privilege and sense of obligation to stop human suffering. She's torn between her family's requests to return home to beautiful Olympia, Wash., versus her need to stay in Israel and help the Palestinian cause.

Despite the specific political context, hers is a battle with which many 20-somethings are all too familiar. Corrie is an idealist who cannot avert her eyes from ugliness anywhere in the world, and is hell-bent on doing something about it — leaving her life of boyfriend, Pat Benatar and the Pacific Northwest behind.

Co-director Kevin Wleklinski said that the play has universal themes that override the specifics.

"It could have been any place," Wleklinski said. "To call it a political piece would be a gross misrepresentation. It deals with politics but is not a political piece."

At times, Corrie and Shine merge as a single entity, to the point the audience may forget Shine is acting. Director Phylis Ravel said Shine's similarities to Corrie are uncanny, particularly her humor and passion.

"Jenni is very special," Ravel said. "Her love for theater and social justice is something that comes only every so often."

This production required much more work than a simple script read-through, and it is apparent. Shine said she did extensive research — conversing over lunch dates with people from Palestine, reading numerous books and newspaper articles and watching newscasts and documentaries about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

And then there is the edge that Shine brings that research won't yield. For a service trip last December, Shine spent two weeks in Kenya where she encountered poverty and suffering.

"When she went to Kenya, she bought back another dimension to Rachel," Ravel said. "That couldn't be found any other way. It was very personal."

Shine said she has learned much more about the complicated Israeli-Palestinian conflict through this production, which has been in the works since last summer. When she speaks about the play, it is obvious that, to her, this is more than a senior project.

"It's very empowering to bring Rachel's words to life," Shine said. "In her writing, she's very straightforward. And you see this transformation as she sees more suffering and violence."

Corrie left her home and school in Washington to be part of the International Solidarity Movement in the Gaza Strip. The group defended civilian households from destruction by the Israeli Army. The details of her death have been disputed, as the Israeli Army claims it was accidental. Yet the play reveals that Corrie was wearing a bright orange jumpsuit and the bulldozer had been driving 10 seconds before hitting her. Shine said that Corrie's parents learned of their daughter's death after a relative saw a CNN news ticker that read, "Olympia woman killed in Palestine."

The play, which was edited by Katherine Viner and Alan Rickman, was a hit in London but not so much in the United States. It was stopped during Broadway production because it was deemed offensive by some in the Jewish community.

"Now it's starting to again have a life," Ravel said.

Both Shine and Ravel commented that the United States media's portrayal of the conflict has not been the most credible or informative, with limited information on the Palestine side of the conflict and biased coverage favoring Israel. Theater, then, emerges as a source of information free of association or bias, creating dialogue.