9 Parts of Desire - a 'must see' at Lyric Stage Company

Heather Raffo's 9 Parts of Desire 


Directed by Carmel O'Reilly

Produced by Rebecca Curtiss

Scenic Design by J. Michael Griggs 

Costume Design by Rafael Jaen 

Lighting Design by Rob Cordella 

Sound Design by Dewey Dellay 

Production Stage Manager, Kayla G. Sullivan 

Featuring Lanna Joffrey

Performances through November 18, 2006  Box Office 617-585-5678  www.lyricstage.com 

Whatever your feelings about the war in Iraq, the people of that country, and the current administration in Washington, you need to see Heather Raffo's 9 Parts of Desire at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston to have your perspective altered.  If the only thing that you get from it is the ability to see the people of that war-torn nation as both victims and survivors, you will walk away from it changed by the experience.   

Lanna Joffrey gives a tour de force performance under the direction of Carmel O'Reilly, bringing to life nine characters that are composites of women interviewed by the playwright over a period of eleven years.  Among them are an artist, a Bedouin, an expatriate living in London, a teenage girl, and an Iraqi-American.  It is through the latter that we see the autobiographical aspect of the play as Raffo is half Iraqi.  Although raised in the United States, Joffrey was born in Iran and her performance is infused with a connection to these women that seems almost primal. 

The actress changes character by simple costume adjustments, different body language, and slight accent variations.  Some of the women wear an abaya, the traditional black Iraqi robe, while others model more modern garb.  Joffrey slips in and out of each style and each character seamlessly throughout the ninety minute play (performed without intermission), giving every one of them her own distinguishing characteristics.  Yet they all share a version of the Iraqi psyche which Joffrey imparts by speaking directly to the audience.  The Lyric is not a large house to begin with, but it feels as if we are one-on-one when Amal, the Bedouin, asks why her love is unrequited, or when the Iraqi girl reads a passage from her father's journal written before his arrest and subsequent disappearance. 

Raffo presents an insider's view not traditionally seen in the west.  She also provides a wealth of information about the rich history and culture of the "Cradle of Civilization" that made me embarrassingly aware of how little I know about the region.  However, the greatest impact of telling the stories of these Iraqi women is to show their humanity and discover the ways in which we are alike.  Despite all of the obvious differences between our worlds, what stands out is the universal bond among women and our roles in society.  While men have power and exercise control, often placing women at their mercy, no culture can endure without the participation of its women.  Raffo's women have all suffered loss, indignity, or unthinkable tortures, but remain strong and loving.  They do not think of themselves as victims, but they are most assuredly survivors.  I found their stories to be both heartbreaking and compelling. 

While 9 Parts of Desire is not a political play per se, each woman's story has a political component.  Layal is free to express herself in her art, but must buy that freedom by prostituting herself to the government in a variety of ways.  The Doctor studied abroad and chose to return to her country to practice medicine, but treats countless victims of the war amid unsanitary conditions and a dearth of resources.  Huda, the Iraqi exile living in London, is the most political character and also serves as a history tutor, detailing the rise and fall of Saddam Hussein and American involvement in Iraqi affairs.       

J. Michael Griggs' set is evocative, its focal point being a rectangular pool of water that reflects its ripples on the backdrop of sheer curtains, up lit by warm amber bulbs.  Mulaya, a professional mourner and the first woman we meet, feeds this river with shoes and sandals of the dead.  Near the end of the play, Layal, the artist, steps into the pool and assumes the dead man's float position in an eerie depiction of death.  The water theme runs through the story and connects the characters to the river and to each other.  In the desert, water is life and the river of life is a powerful force within these women. 

9 Parts of Desire is a difficult play to sit through because of the horrors of war and tragic circumstances which are described.  There is also an element of guilt to be a citizen of the country that has brought about some of their suffering.  At the same time, Heather Raffo's concept and writing combine to bring us on a journey into a world we would not otherwise experience.  At the Lyric, O' Reilly and her able collaborators are offering a tour of that world, expertly led by the remarkable Lanna Joffrey.  Buy your tickets and fasten your seatbelt.  It's worth the fare. 









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