Heather Raffo, the daughter of an Iraqi man and an American woman, wrote “9 Parts of Desire” to humanize the images we see on television. Actors Theatre’s marvelous production forces us look beneath the cardboard images through nine very different women impacted by events in Iraq. More than just an informative political drama, this play is a poetic masterpiece, with memorable characters all ably portrayed by Aysan Çelik.
A Moslem proverb, used to justify the veil, says God created sexual desire in 10 parts, nine of which were given to women. The nine women depicted in the play, composites of women Raffo interviewed over a decade, are not one-dimensional, cloistered women. Rather, they are earthy and real. Some of their stories of inhuman cruelty may shock, but you won’t soon forget them. Sound and light are important parts of the production, as planes zoom overhead while a terrified woman seeks shelter, and flashing lights exemplify bombs exploding.
The stage, covered with sand, is transformed into a desert, with the Tigris and Euphrates meeting in the center. The desert continues up the wall of the rear stage, with steps jutting out. The rivers are filled with sandals — the “soles” of the dead. At rise, we hear the Mulaya, a professional mourner who feeds the river more shoes.
Layal, an artist whose works hung in the Saddam Art Center, matter-of-factly describes the horrifying death of a woman she disguised in a painting as a tree dripping with honey. Amal, a Bedouin woman, deals with rejection from a man she loves. He says she’s “too pure” for him, but she wonders whether she’s just too fat. Huda is a deep-voiced exile who lived through the first revolution. She drinks heavily and tells us “their way — I promise you — is to torture the people close to you.”
A British-educated doctor who returned to Iraq delivers babies deformed by depleted uranium, a subject few are willing to tackle in the media. It will take 4,000 years for this uranium to dissipate. The doctor asks, “How many generations is that?”
Samura is a young girl who loves *Nsync. Umm Ghada, mother of Ghada, which means “tomorrow,” tells us how a “smart bomb” wiped out her family. The Americans said they thought the building was a communications center, but she thinks otherwise.
An American woman with Iraqi cousins refuses to leave her house while the war rages on. She can’t understand how we can go on getting pedicures and shopping, as if nothing is happening. The final character is Nanna, a roadside vendor hawking anything she can find so she can eat.
Huda voices the Big Question. She wonders how, after being subjected to Saddam Hussein’s savagery, Iraqis could have liberated themselves. Does this sufficiently justify the American invasion? Layal says Americans are bound to Iraq because we feel guilty for our “big footprint.” As she says, “And we tether you to something so old you cannot see it. We have you chained to the desert, to your blood.”
What exactly is the nature of this beast that lies beneath the cradle of civilization, this insatiable river?