Theater Preview: 9 Parts of Desire at USF

The Iraq War and its aftermath through the eyes of nine Iraqi women.

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click to enlarge MIDDLE EAST MISSIVES: Malak Fakhoury portrays Umm Ghada in 9 Parts of Desire. - Bryce Womeldurf
Bryce Womeldurf
MIDDLE EAST MISSIVES: Malak Fakhoury portrays Umm Ghada in 9 Parts of Desire.

9 Parts of Desire
Written by Heather Raffo, directed by Andrea Assaf
Preview night is Tues., Nov 10, 7:30 p.m. Runs Nov. 12-14 & 19-21 at 7:30 and Nov 15 & 22 at 3 p.m. in Theatre 2, USF Tampa Campus, 3829 USF W. Holly Drive; $15 general admission;

Imagine a visit to a modern art museum in Baghdad in 1993 and getting a chance to glimpse into the everyday lives of nine Iraqi women who've lived in the region during the first and second Gulf Wars, and the U.S. occupation. Playwright Heather Raffo's 9 Parts of Desire offers "an example of how art can remake the world," according to the New Yorker. We meet an attractive painter, a radical Communist, doctors, exiles, wives and lovers. "This work delves into the many conflicting aspects of what it means to be a woman in a country overshadowed by war," says Raffo.  

Playwright  Raffo has brought her acclaimed theatrical piece to USF, which will run in the next couple of weeks as part of THIS Bridge: Arab, Middle Eastern and Muslim Artists series. Raffo  visited Tampa for a week-long residency to work with the 16-person ensemble cast.  

During her residence at USF,  Raffo made some script updates and worked  collaboratively with THIS Bridge Artistic Director and 2015 Best of the Bay winner Andrea Assaf (best cultural outreach), who also directs the play. CL caught up with Assaf to find out why 9 Parts of Desire is a must-see performance in Tampa Bay.

CL: What would you say to a male chauvinist type, non-theater-goer who chafes at shows written by, performed by and about women?
Andrea Assaf:
This is a play about war. Specifically, about the wars and conflicts in Iraq that the U.S. military has been engaged in, from the early 1990s to the present. It’s a play about our national policies, and what kind of world we are creating. If you care about any of those issues, this play will impact you. If you’re interested in having a conversation about the realities of war, and the decisions our country makes, this play will catalyze the conversation in a way that nothing else can. There are men and women in this production, as Iraqis and soldiers.

What makes the play effective?
The combination of the poetry of the text, with the absolute raw and brutal truths of living through war and dictatorship. The capacity of the characters to pursue the vitality of life, to love and hope, despite the most difficult circumstances. The beauty and the pain of it, hand in hand.

What will the audience think is most compelling about the show?
I think the audience will find Heather Raffo’s script very compelling, because although it is entirely fictional, it is based on and inspired by years of interviews with real people, in Iraq, England and the U.S. I also think the design of the show is fantastic, beautiful and terrifying (because it simulates war experience in some moments), and will deeply impact the audience’s experience. And it’s very moving to see these young actors, most of whom are USF students, so deeply committed to this play and their characters — I think audiences will find their engagement, and opportunities to talk with them after, compelling as well.

Who's performing in the piece? Their roles?
Three women play the Mullaya, a character who is traditionally a professional mourner, and a different actress is playing each of the other speaking roles, as well as an ensemble of soldiers, a traditional Iraqi wedding scene, and other scenes that aren’t in the original script, but that we have staged as an exploration of our historical memory of the Iraq war. It’s a huge, and awe-inspiring production.

See an interview with Assaf and Raffo below:

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