When you think of feminism, your first thought probably isn’t of women in Iraq.

But that’s precisely why 9 Parts of Desire needs to be shared with the world. The nine-woman show, written by Heather Raffo, is based on a series of real-life interviews conducted with Iraqi women about their experiences with war and oppression. Produced by student theater groups Starving Artists Productions (SAP) and AHANA Theater, 9 Parts of Desire runs through Oct. 12 at the Burlington Road Building.

The production follows eight Iraqi women – and one American – as they relate their individual tales of triumph, tragedy and powerful humanity. By and large comprised of monologues, the women of 9 Parts had a grand task set before them: how to confront issues as serious as war, rape and death, all on their own.

Our first hint of what to expect came in the play’s prologue, which revealed the history behind the painting on the program’s cover. The image depicts a dark forest with a nude woman in the center, facing away and reaching her arms around a tree.

The introduction then explains that this painting was found in a destroyed Iraqi home after American bombs killed the young woman living inside. The men searching the home found dozens of paintings alongside it – similar nature-based images and portraits of Saddam Hussein.

This contrast between the subjects of her artwork inadvertently set the stage for a recurring theme of the performance: the juxtaposition of these women’s cheerfulness, splendor and love of life, and the harsh conditions, horrors of war and life-or-death situations they were forced to encounter every day.

In one monologue, a woman named Amal – played by College freshman Tracy Li – told her life’s story, detailing how she provided for her children and her experiences with men. She recalled childhood memories of her mother singing to her and spoke of her children with unrestrained exuberance. Li’s energy was palpable throughout the theater. Yet, when she detailed a man she once loved telling her, “No – I don’t love you anymore,” the lights turned cold, she faced straight forward, stopped moving and spoke with unforeseen severity.

She continuously switched back and forth between this joy and roughness. To Amal, that dichotomy was just part of life – she found happiness when she could,but accepted the harshness when necessary. Li’s portrayal was chilling and poignant, but more than anything, it displayed the disconnect between Western and Eastern ways of thinking.

That said, 9 Parts of Desire is far from a pity party. Rather than simply making the audience feel sorry for these women, the play serves as a testament to their strength – to how they managed to rise up in the face of adversity. And it deliberately acknowledges these aren’t straightforward issues. For the women of 9 Parts, it’s not as simple as “Get out of Iraq at all costs.” They have their own interpretation of freedom and understanding of what they need to be happy, even if it does not align with Western notions.

On that note, one particularly evocative scene followed “The American” (College junior Kelly Spicer) as she became increasingly frustrated with a woman who told her, “I don’t watch the war; it’s depressing,” while getting a pedicure. She struggles to find the right way to convey her sorrow for her Iraqi relatives, even from New York.

Meanwhile, in one of only a few out-and-out dialogues in the entire performance, the free-spirited Iraqi Layal (College junior Natalia Via) tells The American not to feel sorry for her.

“What are you creating with your freedom?!” Layal demands of The American.

And that’s something that 9 Parts of Desire begs the audience to consider: What does it mean to be free? And even though Westerners consider themselves to be free, do they really do anything with that status?

One of the most tragic moments of the show arises when Layal, the painter, takes a call in which she is commissioned to create the mosaic for a new hotel in Dubai. She’s produced portraits of Saddam Hussein for years, but this project is the ultimate low – crafting a portrait of Bush. Layal bursts into tears, ashamed that she’s taken the job.

“I will make it!” she cries desperately. “And I will walk across his face!”

Oppression comes in a variety of forms, and to Layal, succumbing to beautify the face of the American who has been dropping bombs on her village is the worst kind. Still, she needs the money and gives up her right to resist for that reason.

Director and College senior India Duranthon writes in the program notes: “9 Parts of Desire sings the song of women, specific and universal and shares what oppressions urge women to say, what they are afraid to and what they never knew how.”

Perhaps the most haunting – and beautiful – thing about 9 Parts of Desire wasn’t the acting, or the visuals or the effects. It’s that these women finally got the chance to talk.

– By Emelia Fredlick

Photo courtesy of Mark Spicer

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