Nine Parts of Desire: Raffo borrowed the provocative title of her play from a book by Australian reporter Geraldine Brooks, who in turn quotes from Iman Ali in the Koran, "God made desire in ten parts and gave nine to women." The proverb is most often cited as the justification for cloistering and covering Islamic women. For Raffo, however, it as an allusion to the essential desirousness and earthiness of the Iraqi women whose stories so captivated her.

The feelings of guilt and responsibility expressed by Layal are echoed by every other character.

But Nine Parts of Desire is more Greek than Shakespeare. Layal's description of the painting, of her nudes and trees, brings to mind the metamorphoses of Daphne and Acteon, and although not without clever metaphors, the language of the play is austere, redolent of the rhythmic lamentations of Electra and Hecuba. Joanna Settle directs Raffo to simply speak straight to the audience, turning us into both the surrogate interviewer and a silent Chorus. As Umm Gheda says after impassively guiding us Virgil-like through the remains of the bomb shelter, "Here is guestbook they all sign/ Your name will be witness too."

Nine Parts disintegrates and then radically switches gears as the women become more vociferous, reacting to the helplessness of their situation in a final cumulative storm of anger, hysteria, desperation, denial, and finally, a beseeching string of, "I love you I love you I love you I love you I love youŠ" coupled with the calling out of family names by the American Iraqi who yearns to bring them closer, to stave off their disappearance or death. The play climaxes as the women are channeled by a character called the Mulaya, who according to the stage notes, is a hired mourner paid to "bring the women to a crying frenzy with her improvised heartbreaking verses about the dead."

desire is the opposite of death. Raffo makes the point amply clear, as the women in her play tenaciously pursue not only sexual desire, but also desire for security, normalcy, health, and for love, the herald and result of these blessed conditions.

An Iraqi American herself, Raffo does more in 75 minutes to reveal the inner soul of Iraq, than the thousands of hours of TV and print reports that are being spewed out. The stories of this diverse group of women, some real like Layal based on the artist Layla Attar, and some composites, all culled from a decade of interviews, are not a one sided polemic pro-or-ante war, but they are a testament, sometimes told with horrifying detail, of the price this sisterhood has paid for their tortured Iraqi history.

Under the incisive fluid direction of Joanna Settle Raffo morphs into each of her characters by a mere change of expression or posture or voice intonation and by arranging her abaya, a long black traditional robe worn by Iraqi women. Her transformations are aided by Antje Ellermann's effective set, which is bisected by a pool of water representing the Tigris and is cluttered with detritus, books, and painter's tools. The enigmatic quality of Nine Parts of Desire begins with its title drawn from a maxim by Imam Ali, a leader in the ancient Islamic world, "God created sexual desire in 10 parts; then he gave nine parts to women and one to men."

Freud on death instinct and...??