Gulf War gulf
In the politically charged morality battle over the
Iraqi invasion, the humanity has gone sadly missing.
Heather Raffo hones in on it in the remarkable
one-woman play "Nine Parts of Desire."
By JEAN TANG
For the Western world, "Nine Parts of Desire" is what
happens when shock occasioned by the now-familiar
tome of news, films, and other media depicting the
plight of women in the Middle East graduates to the
next level. Combine this with assiduous research,
jaw-dropping acting, lucky timing, and the steadfast
refusal to deal categorically with a complex political
and cultural phenomenon and you have not so much a
play as a revelation with the heat and throb of a
fever dream, without intermission.
The title is extracted from a Shia maxim: "God created
sexual desire in ten parts; he gave nine parts to
women and one to men." The title is alluring but
insufficient: the play speaks more to individuality
than desire, more to the coping of people (yes, all
female) under the endless bombs of horror and exigency
than to the relations between the sexes, per se.
Although mention is made of beheaded prostitutes and
babies ravaged by starving cats, the play is much more
than a set piece dedicated to Saddam's victims; in
fact, it's not dedicated to victims at all. Under
Raffo's pen and agile performance, women don't sit and
suffer they orate, they detract, they lust, they
resist, they opine, they express their egos...and they
(mostly) survive. All of which may leave you stunned.
|NINE PARTS OF DESIRE|
|Written and performed by: Heather Raffo.|
Directed by: Joanna Settle.
Related links: Official site
|Manhattan Ensemble Theatre|
55 Mercer St. (one block north of Canal)
Previews start: Sept. 24, 2004
Opens: Oct. 9, 2004
Varied schedule; generally, Tues.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 3 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m.
"Nine Parts" opens on a stage dominated by a wedge of
water framed in tile. This represents the Tigris
River, where an old woman has come to bury worn souls.
It's not literal, although it seems so: she is
submerging sandals (get it? "worn soles") a lonely
image, even if her poetic elegies are too fraught with
meaning to be absorbed in one sitting:
When the grandson of Genghis Khan|
Burned all the books in Baghdad
The river ran black with ink
What color is this river now?
It runs the color of old shoes
The color of distances
The color of soles torn and worn
This river is the color of worn soles
Before we get comfortable, the woman has shrugged off
her abaya (flowing black cape), and positioned herself
on the other side of the stage, paintbrush in hand.
We're introduced to Layal, the notorious Iraqi painter
of nudes, who was favored by Saddam and refuses to
leave her homeland, although the constant bombing
which booms realistically near and far makes her
feel like "an animal." Layal is the central character
whose story served as Raffo's original inspiration.
Next, Raffo portrays an obese Bedouin Iraqi whose brief
marriage to an Israeli from her tribe ended in
heartbreak for reasons unrelated to the political
differences between their countries. After that, a
doctor treating children experiencing an outbreak of
illness occasioned by violence. An Iraqi-born New
Yorker obsessed with CNN for news of her family
members. A Saddam-hating emigrant whose forgiveness of
the invasion compromises a lifetime of anti-war
And on and on it goes. The 30-something Raffo spent 11
years collecting stories and diversity and character
tics on four continents. Where she found time to train
for a performance that surges with energy and fluidity
eludes me. But her depictions are solid arpeggios,
skillfully linking hysteria with lyricism, youth with
old age, ignorance with bald grief, and in the process
voicing something that got lost in all the posturing
during our own presidential debates: the plaintive cry
|OCTOBER 23, 2004|
OFFOFFOFF.COM THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK
Reader comments on Nine Parts of Desire:
Post a comment on "Nine Parts of Desire"