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Theater: Heather Raffo's 9 Parts of Desire Forum

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Welcome to the first online discussion of theater productions at the Wilma in Philadelphia, PA, hosted on Serendip. Heather Raffo's 9 Parts of Desire is a one-woman show based on interviews conducted with Iraqi women by Iraqi American Heather Raffo, about their experiences over the last twenty years of tumultuous events in Iraq. It is a play loaded with social, political, and cultural relevance that should provoke interesting discussions. Please join in!

Comments are posted in the order in which they are received, with earlier postings appearing first below on this page. To see the latest postings, click on "Go to last comment" below.

Go to last comment

Name: Anne K. Ho
Date: 2006-02-10 19:08:17
Link to this Comment: 18059

Hi everyone. As the Director of Education at The Wilma Theater, I've agreed to helped launch this discussion about the show. Ideally, the conversation threads it yeilds will reflect the diversity of its participants,touching on themes and observations that many of us(Including those of us at the Wilma!) may not have previously considered.

I'd like to start this off by asking people to share some of their initial impressions. How did the play affect you? Which characters or stories really resonated with you? Are there specific moments from the play--lines or images, that have stayed in your mind? Are there any nagging questions that you still want answered? And finally, has the play reverberated in other ways, through related thoughts or thematic connections that it may have prompted?

We look forward to hearing from you!

Effect of play on audience
Name: Wakely
Date: 2006-02-11 11:16:23
Link to this Comment: 18067

I have seen the play twice now and intend to see it again. Both times I think the audience shared with me the remarkable experience of seeing an ongoing "event" that is covered daily in our news, but seeing it from a totally different viewpoint. In addition to the wonderful performance we witnessed, and the very powerful writing, it jolted us on to a new plane of thinking. I will not listen to the news again in the same way, not just about this war, but about the other violence being perpetrated in places all over the world. A magnificent evening of theatre!!
The character that will stay with me, though is the last character, resigned to the endless warmongering but surviving in the way she can.

still shuddering
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-02-12 15:30:28
Link to this Comment: 18079

I'm a member of the English faculty @ Bryn Mawr College, and had a hand in helping to get this forum up and running. I was fortunate enough to see the opening night performance of 9 Parts of Desire @ the Wilma last week with my 17-year-old daughter--

and find it surprisingly difficult to write about my experiences here.

The night we were there, Jacqueline Antaramian got a standing ovation from the audience. When we left the theater, my daughter said, "I just don't know why everyone was clapping." "They were clapping because it was a tour de force, what that actress did," I said. "All those characters, all those distinct accents and vocal patterns...." "Well," she said, "I just don't know what we're supposed to do with that." "Are you sorry you came?" I asked. "Oh, no," she said. "It was very powerful. I just can't talk about it." I find myself in the awkward position of having helped create a platform for people to talk about plays they've seen @ the Wilma--and my first report is of a performance too powerful to talk about! Hmm...maybe that's something for thinking outloud together about? What ARE we supposed to do w/ a production that leaves us...

speechless? When the "catharsis" that Aristotle promised us doesn't happen, when we're not purged of the strong emotions a play arouses in us, when we go out still shuddering?

What a Title, What a Play
Name: Shakita S.
Date: 2006-02-19 17:37:33
Link to this Comment: 18207

Nine Parts of Desire

When I walked into the theater, I was blown away by the stage. It had so many things going on at one time. You literally had to look at the stage in pieces to understand it all. A few things that I noticed about the stage were that it had nine stairs and nine chains. Did those chains and stairs represent bondage and the steps that the women needed to take in order to fulfill their desires?
I was astonished to see one actress play nine very different characters. She is really talented. Each character had a different attitude, persona, and dialect of the Arabic language, she pulled it off. The character that I identified with the most is The American. She had family over in Iraq and was worried about their safety and had no way of getting in touch with them for years. My brother is in the Army and is currently serving in Afghanistan, and God forbid, if anything happened how could I come to his rescue. Something that also stood out to me was in the beginning the Mulaya told us the river use to represent life, but at the ending of the play it represented death by devouring Layal.
The lighting, music, and sound affects all contributed to making the play that much better. When Antaramian first came out on the set, I saw the background light up like how the sun rises in the morning. I heard a bird calling, for a minute, I actually thought there was a real bird in the theater. The special affects made me feel like I was in Iraq as all the characters were telling their stories.
I really enjoyed Heather Raffo’s Nine Parts of Desire. Everyone should go and see this play. I would love to see it again.

Name: Devon Alle
Date: 2006-02-19 22:27:17
Link to this Comment: 18212

I have recently seen Heather Raffo's 9 Parts of Desire, and let me say it was truly an experience. The play is the first one woman show that I have ever seem and it was very different from any thing I have ever experienced to date. The thing that made the play so different was the way in which lighting, sound, and stage were used. The lighting created a calm morning in one scene an then a worrisome night in the next. The sound allowed viewers to feel as if they were at the homes of the characters watching video's or as if they were in their homes with them as they were being bombed. In my opinion, the stage was set up to depict some part of each of the nine characters which really gave the overall presentation character alone. Without the lighting, sound, and the way in which the stage was set up this play would be significantly different and would lose a major important aspect of the play. I enjoy Heather Raffo's Nine Parts of Desire and i feel honored to say that I have experienced this eye opening portrayal of the lives of Iraqi women.

Viewing the play as an AMerican woman
Name: Lauren Bur
Date: 2006-02-20 08:56:28
Link to this Comment: 18220

After viewing the play called The Nine Parts of Desire, I was mesmerized, shocked, and somewhat horrified at some of the events that took place during the play. As a woman watching the play I felt extremely sorry for the women of Iraq, and all the things that they have to go through on a daily basis. Here in America, females have many problems, and many things to complain about however, our problems are nothing compared to that of Iraqi women. In the play there were many characters, but the character that stuck out the most to me was the painter. She was very opinionated and outspoken. She spoke about the regime, and about the new government that is trying to invade Iraq. This painter really painted an actual picture in your mind of what Iraqi women go through. She said that she gets called out of her name for what seems like normal things to Americans, but disgraceful thing to Iraqis. This painter decided not to move away from Iraq because she said that she would not let them take her freedom. This posed a very interesting question to me, Are we as people actually free? The painter said that Americans like to thing that they are free, but they actually are not, as Americans we are held down by a social image of perfection. In Iraq women are held down for many other reasons that are more serious like war, suffrage, religion, and government. This play was very fundamental to me as an American women to show me that my problems here are not as big as I make them. This was a great play!

Nine Parts of Desire
Name: Ashley Men
Date: 2006-02-20 21:30:45
Link to this Comment: 18238

Recently I had the chance to witness an incredible play written by a very talented writer, Heather Raffo. Nine Parts of Desire is without a doubt the best play I have ever witness. The first second I walked into the room where the play was taking place I fell in love and I knew that this was going to be a one of a kind play. The stage and the vibe that it set off were unexplainable. Each section of the stage had a different feeling to it. The actress which I might add was wonderful, used each of these sections to show how each character was a major part of the play. With so little props the actress did such a great job playing the nine different characters. This was my first play were there was only one actress acting out all of the characters and I was truly amazed. Throughout the whole play the actress caught my eye and I never lost interest. I am not sure if the actress was an Iraqi woman; whether or not she was she did a terrific job. It was like you were sitting in a room with the character having a one on one conversation. The whole play in my opinion was like a large puzzle. The sounds, the lights, the scenery and the actress all came together to produce a magnificent play that will forever remain in my memory.

Poetic Response
Name: Meghan Zei
Date: 2006-02-20 23:03:25
Link to this Comment: 18241

After enjoying 9 Parts of Desire with my AP Language and Composition Class, I was blessed with two very exciting forums for response. The first was my own--a poetic, American woman response of the issues raised most immediately and powerfully in the moments following the performance. The second was as a teacher who got to enjoy the unique perspectives, perceptions, and understandings of my students in their discussions the following day. Posted here is the poem I've titled "American Desire." Unfortunately, this posting medium does not allow me to italicize parts of the text, but what readers recognize as lines or paraphrases from the show are just that, juxtaposed with my connections to them.

A dozen roses, a thousand crunches,
and an ivy league degree.
Oh God, I thank you!
Praise God, I thank you!
I am American.
I am free!

That is not free! You are not free!
WOMEN are not free…
Modern whores breathing sighs of
that we are not them,
imprisoned like them,
raped like them.
Rather raped by us in the silent
in the click, click, click
of higher heels and lower paychecks,
in the “hey baby, you got a number?”
and the blood-laced hands that
scratch at the back of our throats.

Our war is inside you now.

Toddlers with breast cancer
or a man who would pay
for symmetrical, silicone growths
so that his girl
can look like every girl
his Father ever told him
was worth more, and so
You can be strong like me—
Me, I had the breast cancer.

Our war is inside you now.

every mirror I stand,
by size twelve jeans,
my grandmother’s nose,
and every moralized moment
of festering guilt for being
born to what and who I am and what we are and where we are
What can make it clean?

Our war is inside you now.

They will not kill me.
THAT is freedom.
They will not tell me I’m sensitive,
or not allowed to be funny
and smart,
and pretty,
and outspoken
about not having to,
but having the right to CHOOSE.
Does her naked boldness threaten you?
Does my stringent sarcasm make you weak?
Do they make you scream “whore!” or “feminist!”
as you topple our stone likenesses
and dance
in the street?

You call me whore,
you judge me—
but I will always go to them.
They make me the most beautiful woman in Baghdad!
They will not kill me,
and THAT is freedom…

Name: Peter Chau
Date: 2006-02-23 08:58:17
Link to this Comment: 18308

As I entered the theater the one thing that really stuck out to me was the set. At first I questioned how could a whole play revolve around one scene? Would they change the set for different scenes? I really hope they don't. The whole set contributed to the change in scene for my mind set. Even though the stage remained untouched, I was able to travel to different parts of the world while staying in one place.

I also thought that the sound effects enhanced my experience at the Wilma Theater. It felt as if I was almost in Iraq at times. It wasn't just the effects that impressed me, but the selection and context as well. The tape message touched everyone in the audience, and I found it appropriate to the timing and mood of the play.

The only question I have is was that was the tape message real? It seems almost ironic in that the tape message expresses the sorrow and empathy of a citizen whose country we would bomb a few months later.

Over all I enjoyed this play, and appreciated the experience greatly. As a student of the public schooling system, it is rare that we as students get a chance to view a real play in a theater by real professional actors and actresses.

Viewing this play as a man
Name: Drew Westo
Date: 2006-02-23 12:00:12
Link to this Comment: 18313

I came into the Wilma Theater as the complete antithesis to “The 9 Parts of Desire’s” characters and plots. I’m a white male raised in the western world. When I found out that the play’s title was based on an old Iraqi passage about the relationship between the genders, I was expecting the usual. Unfortunately, my expectations were met. I felt like much of the play was centered around the abuse of women in Iraq (which I do not condone the slightest) where the playwright could have given information about their religion or beliefs that justify this kind of abuse. I think that many of the character’s personalities were clichéd. I feel like these characters would be appropriate in a documentary, but they felt thrown into the play just to fill the quota of nine characters, although we didn’t hear from them for the rest of the play. Because of that, many of the characters, which were still acted beautifully, seemed underdeveloped, ignored, and sometimes just too familiar with popular news images. On whole, I enjoyed “The 9 Parts of Desire”. I thought the artist’s story was both incredible and horrible at the same time. Her predicament in her society made American feminist’s complaints over a few cents wage gap seem foolish, next to the fact that she was forced to prostitute herself out to stay alive. It should make all Americans feel that no matter what their gender, color, religion, or wealth; they are blessed to live in this country.

How I felt as a male
Name: David Hilb
Date: 2006-02-23 12:50:48
Link to this Comment: 18314

As a male, I must admit that watching Margaret Raffo's Nine Parts of Desire did not make me more enlightened about the struggle for women's liberation in Iraq. The play did not portray the strong-willed, determined characters that I believe would be the natural leaders of any rise in Iraqi female self-consciousness. Rather, all the women shown in the play seemed to have one obvious, glaring defect that would have disqualified them from such a role. The exile, who would seem to have the most important role in spreading the word about the oppression of Iraqi women to the Western World, was rather portrayed just as a tipsy equivocater who seemed to vacillate on the role that the Coalition would have in the life of women. The character of the nurse who lost her wits while birthing mutated babies as a result of discarded uranium shells did not invoke pity but rather fear, in the way that Aileen Wuornos (the title character of Monster) may have had plenty of agonizing circumstances to mitigate her responsibility for the killings she committed, but nevertheless the natural first reaction upon being confronted her is dislike and/or fear of what she may do to herself and others.
The overall reaction that I felt towards watching the play as it progressed was a lamentable increasing numbness to the treatment of women in Iraq. Pity was increasingly replaced by a feeling of detachment and relief that I did not have to share my life with these women, and when I wished I could be of help it came only in the form of paternalistic desires to “shake some sense” into the characters, almost in the way that some insane individuals are so traumatized that they literally need a smack to come back into their good sense. It was regrettable that the play did this to me.

Heart Strings
Name: Dionne Whi
Date: 2006-02-23 22:55:49
Link to this Comment: 18318

Heather Raffo's "Nine Parts of Desire" was plain and simply amazing. I left the play feeling spiritually drained as my attitude constantly changed towards each character. As I became more in tuned with each character, like them I too yearned for that peace, contentment and security that they knowingly and subconciously searched for. Each story tugged on my heart strings as I became lost within the lives of these nine different women who shared one common unity, under one fascist regimen, in search of that same internal peace and spiritual freedom. One harden by the rawness of her daily life, Another who exchanges her dignity and self-worth for security, and one more who held on to hope as if it were her last breath, powerful acting. This was truly a monumental play,which rendered me speechless as I exited Heather Raffo's "Nine Parts of Desire".

This Song

What lurks in the shadows is beyond me.
In a nation full of greed tell me what do you see?
I see the have and the have nots who starve in the shadows of plenty.
I see children deprived of life.
The walking dead still has a presence. . .
They stare at you with their cold darkened eyes.
This song makes Liberty cry.
Please realize that Liberty once had a song, before it was lost in the night.
A lovely melody of letting freedom ring, with its torch glowing in the night.
As children and parents fight, fight to be heard.
Please don't forget the cries of the lonely.
This song makes Liberty cry.

portrait of the artist
Name: Ann
Date: 2006-02-24 14:13:57
Link to this Comment: 18326

While I would recommend this powerful play to anyone, it was very hard and painful to watch. I couldn't escape my own complicity as an American -- we, Americans, have a role in this play. We are the ones who are not there, who are backstage, the backdrop of violence, and we are also the audience, the mute character in this play. What are we to make of our role and of our witness? The characters did not give me a clue as to how to deal with the pain of their lives; it seemed like most of them were going mad. So we're offered no resolution, no end in sight, and no call to action. I left the theater feeling hopeless.

I've mulled over the experience for the last several days, and the character who still stands clearest to me is the artist. She, more than the others, seemed to find her way, and she was unapologetic, though somewhat defensive, about how she lived her life and her art. It seemed that she was alluding to painting portraits of and for Saddam during the years between the gulf wars. Did she sell out? Probably, but she survived a brutal regime. And she described her art as using metaphor to express what she could not paint (or say) directly. A woman martyr becomes the branch of a tree, forever safe from the dogs underneath. Is this the role of the artist in general? as seen by Heather Raffo? Or the role of the artist who lives in a society that isn't free? We hear repeatedly that none of us are free, so ... do all artists take our stories, our unconscious dreams and terrors, and make representations of them which actively need interpretation to be perceived in the "right" way? The artist interprets her art to us, and tells us that her subjects (who are still alive) recognize their true selves in her art. But what happens when the artist and the artist's subjects are all gone?

Parts ... and patterns
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2006-02-26 21:54:52
Link to this Comment: 18357

Very rich conversation here, perhaps as much worth reflecting on as the parts (and whole) of the play that triggered them. A few more thoughts to add to the mix ...

I wasn't looking forward to seeing "9 Parts of Desire". "Intense", "painful", "shocking", and "women's lives" are not phrases that draw me in, individually or (still less) collectively. I am reminded of the movie "Crash", which I similarly was not enthusiastic about going to see and which I similarly came out of grateful for its existence. Like "Crash", "9 Parts of Desire" is "a rich and valuable contribution to the kind of socio-cultural criticism that we all need more of."

Jacqueline Antaramian richly deserves the standing applause she received at the performance I saw last Thursday (and which I gather she is commonly getting). It is no small matter to hold an audience and a stage by oneself, as Antaramian did, and an even greater achievement to richly populate it with characters. For the latter, of course, we need to thank at least as much Heather Raffo.

No, none of the characters were " the strong-willed, determined characters that I believe would be the natural leaders of any rise in Iraqi female self-consciousness." . And many (all?) of them "seemed underdeveloped ... appropriate in a documentary." But perhaps that is the point (or at least part of it).

Raffo didn't give us heroines or villainesses. She instead invited to share the lives of others as we might have (if we were lucky) been able to share them in person, noticing and accepting that the lives of people we meet always appear, like our own, somewhat fragmented and incoherent. The characters of "9 Parts" are, like ourselves, people trying to do the best they can with what they have - to live, and to make small meanings out of life, for themselves and others. Whatever coherences, whatever larger meanings there might seem to be, are always in retrospect, after the fact.

That's not to see that the play is incoherent, or that Raffo didn't intend an audience to take messages from it. Clearly she did. My guess though is that " It should make all Americans feel ... they are blessed to live in this country" is not exactly what Raffo was hoping an audience would leave with. Closer might be "eye opening portrayal of the lives of Iraqi women". And perhaps closer yet is "as an American women to show me that my problems here are not as big as I make them." There is though still here an entangling of the incoherent individual and a larger, after the fact coherence ("Viewing the Play as an American Woman").

My guess is that " I too yearned for that peace, contentment and security that they knowingly and subconciously searched for." is closest to what Raffo hoped audiences might take from they play. I didn't think that "9 Parts" is primarily about Iraqui women, or Iraquis, or even women (though its obviously relevant to all of these). I thought the play was primarily about individual human beings (women and men, and Iraquis and Americans, and all of us) and the relation of our individual lives to larger social forces. That some did and others didn't see this, and that we're all talking (here and elsewhere) about the different things we each saw, is perhaps the play's greatest significance and success.

Why is it that we all seem to prefer to see things and people in terms of larger coherences and identities instead of in terms of the incoherences and at best temporary and small coherences and meanings we directly experience in our own lives? Might we all be better off, and deal more responsibly and effectively with our own contributions to larger coherences and social actions (such as the war in Iraq) if we were better able to recognize and accept the shared personal incoherences in all individuals, ourselves included? These are the questions that it seems to me Raffo effectively presents us with in "9 Parts", in hopes that we can find in the future better answers to them than we have in the past.

Posing those questions may well, in the long run, be much more important than any answers Raffo (or anyone else) could have provided for how to deal with the situation in Iraq, or any of a large number of of similar situations in the United States and elsewhere in the world. That there are no answers in "9 Parts" should be taken as a valuable and compelling invitation for each of us to try and meaningfully address these questions anew in a variety of contexts in our own lives.

Is this a Cubist Play?
Name: Ann
Date: 2006-02-28 12:51:53
Link to this Comment: 18393

Thinking about the previous discussion of the relative incoherences and perceived shallowness of the characters, I have started to wonder whether we could characterize the play as cubist. We have a play which represents multiple viewpoints and demands that we, the audience, make sense of them into a coherent whole (or not, as we wish), but the play will not make a nice tidy representational coherence for us. We, the audience, have to do the work; we can't expect the play to passively entertain us, give us "the" solution to problems it poses, or even give us "a" solution to problems it poses.

Unlike a cubist painting, the play can't represent the multiple viewpoints simultaneously because of its temporal form. However, it can intersect the points of view in various ways, some obvious and some not. The set that the Wilma presented for the play's performance enhanced these intersections, and gave me the experience of looking at a painting in a temporal form.

Here's a link about cubism if you would like to think more about this idea:

One Part
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-02-28 22:48:16
Link to this Comment: 18410

I find it very striking/very useful/very helpful to think about the staging of 9 Parts of Desire as a "cubist" representation of women's experience seen linearly/imagined simultaneously from multiple different perspectives...

But there's a dimension which "cubism" doesn't quite get at, perhaps best expressed in the maxim which gives the play its title--and unites all those various perspectives:

"God created sexual desire in 10 parts; then he gave nine parts to women and one to men."

Is each of the women in the play so overwhelming in her desire (or her desirousness?) that she must be covered from the sight of men? Is each of them full of/spilling over with unfullfilled desire--for sex, for love, for companionship, for security? Is each of them driven to yearn increasingly for the loss of those things....? Do the "nine parts" coalesce, finally, into one thing, or one drive--the impulse which counters that of death, the impulse to live, and to connect....?

Doesn't seem to me the least bit incoherent, in the small parts, or the whole. On the contrary: quite singular, and quite simple.

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