9 Parts Desire – Arena Stage
By Ronnie Ruff
I thought that it may be interesting to do something a bit different for my review of Nine Parts Of Desire, the one woman play currently mounted at Arena Stage. This is a story of eight fictional Iraqi women and how years of Saddam and now George Bush have defined and sometimes taken their lives. I decided to find out how the play might be received by an Iraqi American. It just so happens that I have a friend from Iraq, now an American citizen who has parents currently in Jordan because they are afraid to return to their home in Iraq. I gave him a call to invite him to see the show and he accepted.
Playwright Heather Raffo is of Iraqi heritage and has been working on this play since her visit to Iraq in 1993 between US invasions. The critically acclaimed play premiered in 2003 and its title is taken from Shi’a leader Ali ibn Abu Taleb’s quote, “God created sexual desire in ten parts; then he gave nine parts to women and one to men.” These stories are graphic and many times sad but Ms. Raffo weaves in bits of humor and sarcasm that keep the stories of war’s horror and despair from overpowering the show. I am reluctant to reveal much of the play in my review for fear of weakening its impact that is dependent on your shock and awe.
The technical aspects and set for this show are as good as anything I have seen in quite a while. The Iraqi wind worn landscape is complete with a river of symbolic souls that flows through the set and is fed by the tears of an entire nation. The sound and lighting effects that fill the transitions between the various characters are extremely well done, the sound of bombs exploding and helicopters overhead bring extreme realism to the stories told almost as if Baghdad had been dropped in Southwest DC.Ms. Raffo is an extremely talented writer and as it turns out a wonderful actor as well. She moved from character to character with ease and she was able to adjust her intensity for each as needed. From an Iraqi artist who rumor has it was targeted by the US military to a Bedouin woman who has little luck with the lessons of love Ms Raffo keeps the characters interesting and according to my Iraqi friend spot on. Even though some of the women portrayed are living in the UK or even the US at no point do they lose the soul of their country or shake themselves from the terrors that haunt them.
Nine Parts Of Desire is a political play with a human feel that will leave you with a far different understanding about what our government’s “nation building” policies have done to destroy the Iraqi homeland and the souls of its women. My friend who happens not to be a theatre fan thoroughly enjoyed the play and at one point I think I saw a tear in his eye. He told me at show’s end that the depictions of Iraqi women both in Iraq and in the UK were genuine and it was obvious to me that he was impressed not only with this show but DC live theatre as well. I think that speaks volumes about this play and its highly volatile subject matter. Thanks to Ms. Raffo and Molly Smith we as an audience have been given an opportunity to understand just a bit of the horror that results from our rescue of Iraq. At some point maybe we will help these women heal from the scars of Saddam instead of adding our own.
9 Parts of Desire by Heather Raffo Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Through Nov. 12. TICKETS: $47 to $66 PHONE: 202/488-3300