“Do you know peace? I think only mens can have real peace. Womans, she cannot have peace. What you think?” says Adri Allen ’16 while playing the character of Amal, a 38-year-old woman who travels from Iraq to Israel, Dubai and London in search of love in the play “Nine Parts of Desire.”
Directed by Allen Grimm, Instructor in Theater, and performed by a cast of nine female students, “Nine Parts of Desire” is a contemporary play written by Heather Raffo. Raffo spent months traveling through Iraq interviewing Iraqi women to write a drama centered around nine characters, who are composites of the interviewees. The women in the play face severe hardship, including daily bombings, the abduction of their families, rape and abuse, and demonstrate the immense strength and resilience of Iraqi women.
“[I chose this particular play because] I thought the students here had the ability to do it and get a radically unique perspective on the world. And the reason why I chose it for this community is that I think we want to explore the greater world and all the different communities around us, and we want to be able to connect, and this is a sort of vehicle that will allow us to make those connections, especially for the 12 to 13 of us who were working on this every day,” said Grimm.
Each cast member was assigned three of the nine roles in the play and will play a different character in each of the production’s three performances. This arrangement makes each night’s performance distinct from the others.
“Mr. Grimm assigned us three characters over the summer… As I spent time with each character I slowly connected to them because I got to see what they were going through. I got to see their struggles. I got to see their situations and even though their situations were very extreme and I couldn’t relate to them in any way, I found some aspect or some situation in my life that I could try to relate to theirs,” said Myioshi Williams ’17, one of the actresses in the play.
“Nine Parts of Desire” is written entirely in monologues. This production transitions between monologues by passing a scarf, demonstrating the bonds of sisterhood between the characters. Each transition also utilizes audio, such as ancient and modern Iraqi music, the Islamic call to prayer, sounds of bombings and busy marketplaces.
One of the characters in the show is Layal, a celebrated artist. Layal’s paintings are sought out by many, including Saddam Hussein, the leader of Iraq during the time of the play. Layal paints nudes of women as a way to defy the corrupt leaders of the nation she loves. To avoid exposing the identity of other women, she explains throughout her monologues that she paints her own naked body, using only small symbols to represent the other women.
“Layal is an extremely brave woman. She will never refrain from expressing her controversial opinions and will speak up for the rest of the women in Iraq through her art. Through the show, we learn that she has gone through extremely impactful situations and has always moved on. She talks openly about her past and her feelings but we never know if she speaks the objective truth. She is full of passion for her art and for others and this makes her unsatisfied and often restless. Her passion for living makes her exceptionally strong and devoted to what she loves and respects: her art and women,” said Adriana Virgili Alovisetti ’15, one of the actresses playing Layal.
Iraqi Girl, another character in the show, is introduced as the ’NSYNC song “Just Don’t Tell Me That” blares through the speakers. She dances playfully around the stage until the song abruptly stops because her mother has turned off the music. The harsh Iraqi regime has barred Iraqi Girl from attending school despite her desire to learn.
“I think that [Iraqi Girl is] intelligent, but because of her circumstances she’s never really been given the opportunity to really use that intelligence. She’s kind of been cooped up all her life,” said Alex Ma ’17, one of the actresses playing Iraqi Girl. “[She] goes on a big emotional rollercoaster because she’s a little kid. She gets really excited about how smart she is at counting bombs and then she gets really somber when she talks about her dad. And it’s really unique because all of the other characters know what they’re doing and what they’re saying, but she’s kind of figuring it out as she goes.”
The show also features a character known as the American. The American lives in New York City, but she has family living in Iraq. Communicating with these relatives proves difficult for The American, forcing her to turn to news stations such as CNN to know what is happening in her family’s country. Not knowing about the safety and well-being of her family gives the American anxiety throughout her several monologues.
“[The American is] definitely the most detached from the characters. I think she’s trying to make a personal connection with all of them because her family does live in Iraq, but she doesn’t live there, so she hasn’t personally experienced it, so she’s really trying to connect with them. And each time it shows in the transitions when she tries to put a scarf on them and they reject it because she’s not really one of them. So I think that she’s just trying to be included,” said Ma, who also plays the American.
The production also utilizes a distinctive set-up including a thrust configuration, which seats audience members on three sides of the stage. The stage is uneven and jagged, with three large arches serving as the backdrop. This design incorporates elements of mosque architecture while still being neutral enough for the characters’ various residences, ranging from Baghdad to London and New York. Additionally, while one actress is performing a monologue, the eight others are seated around the stage, listening in-character.
“Nine Parts of Desire” was performed Thursday night and will be performed this Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. in Steinbach Theatre.