×

Nine Parts of Desire

America's involvement in Iraq has been painted in a harshly negative light by "Stuff Happens," "Embedded" and "What I Heard About Iraq," and the U.S. doesn't fare any better in Heather Raffo's one-woman drama spotlighting nine women fighting to cope with their agonizing Iraqi legacy. .

With:
With: Heather Raffo.

America’s involvement in Iraq has been painted in a harshly negative light by David Hares’ “Stuff Happens,” Tim Robbins’ “Embedded” and Simon Levy’s “What I Heard About Iraq,” and the U.S. doesn’t fare any better in Heather Raffo’s one-woman drama spotlighting nine women fighting to cope with their agonizing Iraqi legacy. The difference here is that Saddam Hussein draws more emphasis than President Bush, and the Iraqi point of view offers insights not emphasized by American newspapers and TV.

Raffo, daughter of an American mother and Iraqi father, spent 10 years interviewing Iraqi women from various strata of society, and the result is noteworthy as a historical document. The production, however, is overlong and would have broader appeal if events were clarified.

Antje Ellermann’s set — with its boarded-up windows, chunks of cracked concrete, stacked sandbags and overall projection of destruction — creates an air of hopelessness, along with Obadiah Eaves’ rumbling sound effects and appropriately melancholy music. Raffo’s first character, Mulaya, a woman hired to lead call and response with women mourning at funerals, emerges as a poignant, pitiable figure.

Another protagonist, Layal, the show’s most fascinating personality, admits, “I fear it here and I love it here,” and defines herself this way: “I’m a good artist, I’m an OK mother, I’m a miserable wife.” She’s also a curator of the Saddam Art Center, a favorite of Saddam’s regime and sexual victim of Saddam’s sons, who think nothing of pouring honey over a discarded mistress and feeding her to Dobermans.

Hooda, a heavy smoker and whiskey drinker living in London, reveals that Saddam beheaded 70 women for being prostitutes, and a monstrous portrait of him begins to build. Stories about Saddam, and the graphic horrors he inflicted on the people, are more absorbing than many of the script’s personal romantic anecdotes.

Ghastly details are voiced by a doctor who discusses genetic damage that has resulted in babies born with two heads or none at all. “Maybe it’s depleted uranium,” she speculates, “maybe it’s the chemicals that were released when we were bombed during the Gulf War, but something happened to the environment.” Raffo is strikingly effective in this role.

Another tale, from Umm Gheda (“a woman of great stillness and pride”), empathetically directed by Joanna Settle, describes an American bombing of an Amiriya bomb shelter on Feb. 13, 1991. The huge room became an oven, bombs burst the pipes and boiled the people, and over 400 were killed.

The play’s theme is most eloquently dramatized by Hooda, when she explains that Saddam “should have been gone during the first Gulf War.” His own troops were defecting, and the population expected America to help after their rebellion, but the U.S. turned its back, allowing the dictator to execute his own people.

Differentiation among nine characters — which include a 38- year-old Bedouin woman, an American and an Iraqi girl who loves ‘N Sync — isn’t as clear as it could be, and Raffo’s unrelentingly impassioned portrayal can grow exhausting. Some modulation and subtlety would give the audience room to respond more fully.

Nine Parts of Desire

Geffen Playhouse/Brentwood Theater; 498 seats; $64 top

Production: A Geffen Playhouse presentation of a play in one act by Heather Raffo. Directed by Joanna Settle.

Crew: Sets, Antje Ellermann; costumes, Kasia Walicka Maimone; lighting, Peter West; original music and sound, Obadiah Eaves. Opened, reviewed Sept. 14, 2005; runs through Oct. 16. Running time: 1 HOUR, 15 MIN.

Cast: With: Heather Raffo.

More Scene

  • Karl Lagerfeld'Lagerfeld Confidential' Photocall at the

    Karl Lagerfeld Remembered at Costume Designers Guild Awards

    The death of fashion and costume designer Karl Lagerfeld cast somewhat of a shadow over the usually jubilant Costume Designers Guild Awards — the only award show where clothes literally steal the spotlight away from actors — which was held at the Beverly Hilton on Tuesday night. Here it was obvious that Lagerfeld’s impact on [...]

  • Kate Bosworth'Nona' film premiere, New York,

    Kate Bosworth Helps Launch Campaign for Female Filmmakers

    In her 20-year career in Hollywood, Kate Bosworth has starred in blockbusters like “Superman Returns” as well as indie darlings like 2014’s “Still Alice.” But the actress has always had a desire to get more involved from the ground up. Now, she is partnering with Women In Film and Chloe Wine Collection to launch the [...]

  • Amandla Stenberg and Sofia CarsonVanity Fair

    Oscar Week Kicks Off With Vanity Fair's New Hollywood Party

    The night was definitely still young Tuesday at Vanity Fair’s New Hollywood party in Los Angeles. The magazine kicked off Oscar week with a party — the first of its three-event Campaign Hollywood series — at Ysabel in West Hollywood to celebrate new and emerging talent. Co-hosted by Yalitza Aparicio, Henry Golding and Amandla Stenberg [...]

  • Oscars Ultimate Party Guide

    Oscar's Ultimate Party Guide 2019

    Welcome to Oscar week. It’s the time of year when Hollywood’s film industry celebrates all things movies. But it’s certainly not just the big show everyone is looking forward to. With voting closed, it’s all about the parties now. Who’s doing what and where and when are they doing it are the questions everyone is [...]

  • Yalitza AparicioTeen Vogue Young Hollywood Party,

    'Roma' Star Yalitza Aparicio, 'Central Park Five's' Jharrel Jerome Sound Off on Trump

    Yalitza Aparicio recently reunited with Alfonso Cuarón, who directed her in “Roma,” for a W magazine photo project that featured her standing at various barriers built at the border between Mexico and the United States. The message? “You can make a name for yourself despite the differences,” Aparicio told Variety on Friday at Teen Vogue’s Young [...]

  • Karl LagerfeldChanel Paris-Londres 2007/8 Show, London,

    Legendary Fashion Designer Karl Lagerfeld Dies at 85

    Karl Lagerfeld, the fashion icon – and iconoclast – who outfitted and photographed such stars as Nicole Kidman and Lady Gaga, has died. He was 85. Lagerfeld died in Paris, fashion house Chanel said. Although his health had been failing, he kept working up to his death, issuing instructions regarding Fendi’s fall ready-to-wear collection, which [...]

  • Eric Wareheim, 'The Simpsons' E.P. Matt

    Beefsteak Gathers Comedy Bigwigs for Meat and Mayhem

    The masterminds behind Beefsteak, a debauched tribute to the meaty arts that raises thousands for the Los Angeles Food Bank, switch things up each year so that guests are never bored. Organized by comedy players including Eric Wareheim, “The Simpsons” executive producer Matt Selman, and ABC Studios VP of comedy Cort Cass with Redbird chef Neal [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content