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9 Parts of Desire

Yesterday, I heard a piece on the PRI radio program The Next Big Thing about an interesting one-woman play called 9 Parts of Desire, at Manhattan Ensemble Theater. I love all the arts, but I am not as great an aficionado of the theater as of other things, which explains how I missed John Lahr's review of the play in The New Yorker (The Fury and the Jury, November 8). Sadly, if there are articles in "The Critics" section that I do not read, this is one of them. However, it does not explain how I also managed to miss a review (Charles Isherwood, A Solitary Woman, Embodying All of Iraq, October 14) and a feature article (Lauren Sandler, An American and Her Nine Iraqi Sisters, October 17) in The New York Times, or the review by Jorge Morales (Smart Bombs, October 26) in The Village Voice. The play comes to New York after being well received in Edinburgh and London (even reviewed in The Guardian and The Scotsman). From the Times review:

Heather Raffo, in 9 Parts of DesireBlonde, Midwestern, Catholic: the writer and actress Heather Raffo seems an unlikely candidate to play an Iraqi woman, let alone actually be one. Yet Iraqi she is, both by heritage (on her father's side) and in her nine-character, one-woman show, "Nine Parts of Desire." On a stage littered with blankets, books and paintbrushes, bisected by a pool of water representing the Tigris, Ms. Raffo, who is in her early 30's, pivots from one character to the next, composites of women she knows from eight years of interviews and living-room confessionals. Sipping Scotch and chain-smoking in the show, which opened on Oct. 9 at the Manhattan Ensemble Theater, the actress stiffens her neck to become an aging expatriate academic whose voice hardens as she describes babies tossed inside sacks of starving cats in the prison cell she once shared. Dancing along to an 'N Sync video, Ms. Raffo suddenly embodies a young girl who can tell the difference between a Kalashnikov and an M-16 shot as easily as she can distinguish the members of her favorite boy band. And most centrally, Ms. Raffo steps into the role of a bold artist who painted nudes and slept with regime officials.
Anyway, the radio piece caught my attention—so much so that I listened to the end of it in my car and made myself late for choir rehearsal—not only because of the subject matter, but because I know the playwright/actress who stars in the production, Heather Raffo, because we went to high school together in Michigan. In fact, we were cast across from one another in a school play, which is one of the most enjoyable memories of my teenage years. (Don't worry, I hung up my acting career only a few years after that, when I acted in a blockbuster production of Richard III, with fellow Ionartsian Todd Babcock, at Michigan State University. I was one of the murderers. Todd got murdered. I also got murdered by another murderer. It's a bloody play. We got to learn sword choreography. I was terrible at it.) This is what happens when you don't call your friends and lose touch with them. Big things happen. Then there you are, listening to your friend's voice on the radio. Congratulations, Heather! The play's run has been extended, so I will try to make a trip up to New York next month.

Another thing I missed was the piece on NPR (One-Woman Show on Iraq Draws Accolades, November 26), in which Deborah Amos consistently mispronounces Heather's name as "Ruffo."

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