Keith Powell Beyland, artistic director of Portland-based Dramatic Repertory Company, is not interested in the politics of his latest play, “My Name is Rachel Corrie.”

Beyland is interested in the power of its central character, a young American woman who was killed by Israeli Defense Forces on March 16, 2003, in the Gaza Strip.

After that date, Corrie became a symbol for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Before that date, she was a passionate young woman, full of energy and zeal. It is that character Beyland is most interested in portraying in “My Name is Rachel Corrie,” on stage through Sunday at the Studio Theater at Portland Stage Company. It moves to the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine in Augusta March 21-23.

The play stars Portland actress Casey Turner, who gives a powerful performance in this one-woman tour de force. Beyland directs.

“She could have gone anywhere,” Beyland said of Corrie. “She went to the Gaza Strip, and when you talk about Israel and Palestine, it becomes this minefield. The power was in Rachel and her words. It’s about passion and empathy, and that’s the story we want to tell.”

In his director’s notes, he writes, “What is so relatable about Rachel is that she is like so many of us – those who look at the world and are sometimes dismayed and overwhelmed by what we see. Rachel was driven to take action. For her, it was not just a shake of the head and guilty feeling following a wrenching news story about ‘somewhere else’ in the world. Her action is what makes her compelling.”

Corrie grew up in Olympia, Wash, and became an activist early in life. She volunteered in her home state for various causes, and went to Gaza for a senior-year project at Evergreen State College. She died when she was crushed by an Israel Defense Forces armored bulldozer in Rafah. She stood in the way of the bulldozer in an attempt to prevent it from destroying the homes of Palestinians.

She went to Gaza in January for a sister cities project, and became increasingly involved in nonviolent efforts to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes.

The play is based on the diaries and emails of Corrie, and include many correspondences with her parents.

Turner was drawn to this role for the challenge of a one-person show and “the woman herself and how powerfully she writes. I knew nothing about Rachel Corrie before this show came up, and I knew little about the situation or the conflict. But I was so impressed with her compassion for people, and I was so moved by her words.”

The play is set in Corrie’s bedroom in Washington, as she packs for her travels to Gaza, as well as in the Palestian home where Corrie lived.

Her death is told using video from the actual event.

Turner grew up in Buckfield, and has lived in Portland six years. She studied theater at the University of Southern Maine, graduating in 2009. She has appeared in numerous plays in Portland and around Maine.

This is her biggest role, and her third appearance with Beyland’s DRC.

She said she felt inspired as she delved into the script, and challenged herself to give a performance worthy of Corrie’s commitment to the causes she embraced. Turner read as much as she could about the Middle East, and became conversant in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people.

To make her character believable, Turner knew she had abandon her own insecurities and worries, and take on the persona of a woman whose death has taken on heroic proportions.

She began preparing for the role in November. “It’s definitely changed my life,” Turner said.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

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Twitter: pphbkeyes