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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

9 Parts of Desire

Also see Susan's review of State of the Union

9 Parts of Desire
Heather Raffo
Noteworthy works of "documentary theater" are playing a prominent role in this fall's theatrical season in Washington. Heather Raffo's 9 Parts of Desire, now in the Kreeger Theater at Arena Stage, brings the lives of women in modern Iraq into sharp focus, much as In the Continuum, performed earlier this fall at Woolly Mammoth, told the stories of women dealing with AIDS in Zimbabwe and Los Angeles. In fact, like the two creators of that piece, Raffo originally presented her experiences as part of a master's degree project in acting.

Raffo, the daughter of an Iraqi father and an American mother, has said she feels the need to speak for the women of Iraq in a world that has little knowledge of her father's homeland. While the specific stories she tells are fictitious, she gathered inspiration during visits to her Iraqi relatives.

9 Parts of Desire allows Raffo to celebrate her heritage while vibrantly showing day-to-day life and survival in a land first tyrannized by Saddam Hussein, then fragmented by war. One of her speakers, a passionate artist, explains that she could leave Iraq and live in London with her sister, but then she would not be able to tell the stories she experiences each day.

The easiest thing to lose during a war may be the awareness that people in another culture, especially those in conflict against Americans, are also human beings worthy of being treated with dignity. Guided by director Joanna Settle, Raffo fights these negative perceptions by portraying both the horrors and the pleasures of her characters' lives with sensitivity and subtlety.

Raffo uses her posture, facial expressions, tone of voice, and deployment of costume pieces to depict a wide variety of women, including an English-trained doctor seeing the effects of depleted uranium on her patients; a Bedouin woman describing her different lives in the west and in her homeland; a girl too young to understand the necessity of not saying too much; a wanderer who seeks meaning in the timeless rivers of her country; and a young woman much like herself, an American of Iraqi descent trying to speak up against growing intolerance.

In answer to the question of why Iraqis may not trust the efforts of Americans in their country, some of Raffo's speakers recall the period following the first Gulf War when America encouraged Iraqis to revolt against Saddam but offered no help in the effort, which collapsed. They simply say, "The Iraqis don't believe America is really here to help them." Political issues are never as simple to the participants as they may appear to people who only observe them from afar.

Scenic designer Antje Ellermann expresses the fractured nature of these women's lives through a poetic design that incorporates the ancient architecture of Iraq an arched doorway, tiled walls with the aftermath of bombing piles of rubble, sandbags, curtains of plastic sheeting. Kasia Walicka Maimone has designed a versatile costume design that allows Raffo to change from one character to another with limited effort.

Arena Stage
9 Parts of Desire
September 29th November 12th
Written and performed by Heather Raffo
Directed by Joanna Settle
Kreeger Theater, Arena Stage, Sixth and Maine avenues S.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or www.arenastage.org


Photo: Scott Suchman


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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