Heather Raffo is perfectly placed to comment of the war in Iraq. Being half American, half Iraqi she has a unique viewpoint and in Nine Parts of Desire uses it to enlighten the audience and dispel a few myths.
In this 65 minute monologue we meet a host of women including Layal, an Iraqi artist who has stayed in Baghdad despite the danger and controversially continues to paint the female nude, then there's Amal, a rotund Bedouin and Hooda who’s seen the atrocities of the Baath party first hand and claims the only enemy to the Iraqi people is the regime.
Um Gheda shows us around a bombed shelter, a Doctor in Basra shares her fears about the consequences of uranium tipped ammo and there’s only one westerner, an American of Iraqi descent, who we can only presume is Raffo herself, watching the war on CNN unable to contact her family in Baghdad.
The balance in Raffo’s parentage does not lead to a balanced argument and we are never shown the American case for war. What she succeeds in doing is giving an array of opinions through these women – some of whom have lost close family or been raped, others who are more interested in sharing their experiences of life and love outside of the conflict.
So the compelling and current topic of war in the Middle East runs concurrently with a bigger theme, that of freedom of the individual, Raffo asserts the idea everyone is in chains, either literal or metaphorical. “You are not free,” Layal tells her Iraqi-American visitor, “because you love too much”. The dialogues Raffo sets up are vital and intelligent and it’s an incredibly engaging evening.
The different women’s physicalities are brilliantly observed, with Tyler Micoleau’s subtle but effective lighting design reinforcing the moments of character change. Raffo expertly contacts each member of the audience individually. This is incredibly important in this piece as the characters are based on real people Raffo met whist in Iraq, so in effect we become the writer.
Layal says: “ These stories are living inside of me, each one I meet her or I hear about her and I cannot separate myself from them”. It’s as if in the act of relating and listening to other people’s stories we assimilate something of their experience and understand a little more.
Whether or not you have ties with the Middle East you cannot fail to feel compassion for these people. This is a shocking, amusing, informative and poetic piece of writing and an outstanding performance from Raffo.
It manages to address extremely current issues without ever feeling exploitative. The beauty of the play is that long after the attention of the world has moved from Iraq the themes in Nine Parts of Desire will continue to have resonance for audiences.