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A CurtainUp Review

Nine Parts of Desire
By Jenny Sandman
God created sexual desire in ten parts; then he gave nine parts to women, and one to men. ---Mohammed
Nine Parts of Desire
Heather Raffo
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Heather Raffo has created an arresting portrait of Iraqi women with her solo show, Nine Parts of Desire. Half-Iraqi herself, with relatives still in Baghdad, Raffo interviewed many Iraqi women over a period of 11 years and she has brought them to the stage with their varied accents and personalities. Despite their differences, all are looking for some semblance of freedom and peace.

When Americans think about Iraqi women (if they think of them at all), a persecuted, uneducated figure confined to a burqah comes to mind. The women Raffo portrays don't fit the stereotype. All are independent to some degree (in mind if not in body). All long for knowledge. All have endured hardship and sacrifice, and witnessed terrible things. But none are broken. They refuse to leave their families, their homeland. Though they hate Saddam Hussein, they also have mixed feelings about the American soldiers.

Raffo, a gifted performer with a keen ear for accents, accords dignity and respect to each woman she portrays . It is her love for and passionate interest in her subject that brings the characters to life with the smallest adjustment in costume or stature. Some of the stories and personalities she introduces are . an artist, a Bedouin, a doctor and a child. There's even an American.

Director Joanna Settle guides Raffo's energies through Manhattan Ensemble Theater's small but elaborate space . The pace never lags. The flow never falters. Raffo also works hard to establish a rapport with the audience, which pays off; by the end, we can't help but be swept up in the emotion.

Often in solo shows, the production values take a backseat to the performer. Often we have just the performer and a near-blank stage. But in Nine Parts of Desire, the lighting, sound and sets are just as important-and effective-as Raffo's stories. Together, they weave a seamless whole that is evocative and subtly beautiful. Sandbags, cement blocks, and broken mosaics make up the setting. Sound clips (gunfire, bombings, music) aid in the transitions between characters and scenes. The lighting is at times almost effervescent.

This moving ., powerful show was a hit when it premiered at the 2003 Edinburgh Festival. It later moved to London, where it was hailed one of the five best plays last September*. It should garner an equally splendid and ticket selling reputation in New York.

*Editor's Note: CurtainUp reviewed the play both at the Fringe and London, and both our British reviewers shared Jenny's enthusiasm. To check out what they had to say go here.

Written and performed by Heather Raffo
Directed by Joanna Settle
Costume Design by Mattie Ullrich
Light Design by Peter West
Set Design by Antje Ellerman
Sound Design by Obadiah Eaves
Running time: One hour and twenty minutes with no intermission
Manhattan Ensemble Theater, 55 Mercer Street; 212-947-8844
September 24th through November 14th--extended to 12/12/04--and again to 1/23/05--and again to 3/09/05, and yet again to 6/12/05; opening 10/09/04
The final extension was somewhat shorted with final performance on May 22, 2005, after eight months and 211 performances (6 previews and 205 post-opening performances). The show will then go on the road.
Tuesday through Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 3 pm and 8 pm, Sunday at 3 pm and 7 pm. All tickets $55
Reviewed by Jenny Sandman based on October 7th performance
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