‘9 Parts of Desire’ at Williamston illuminates otherwise anonymous women

WILLIAMSTON, MIch.– With a play title like 9 parts of desire Due in the month of hearts and romance, you’d think it’s a play with the entanglements of a love story. That’s far from the case with this one-man play presented by the Williamston Theatre.

At Heather Raffo’s 9 parts of desire is a deeply moving play about the lives of nine distinct Iraqi women and their intense struggles in a war-torn Muslim country where women’s rights are somewhere below those of pets. Women make up half the population in Iraq, but are almost invisible in public. In this ultra-conservative society, a woman’s place is neither in school nor at work, but out of sight at home.

Heather Raffo, an Assyrian American from Michigan, formed the premises for this production during a trip to the Saddam Art Center in Baghdad in 1993, shortly after Operation Desert Storm. She developed and starred in early productions of the show in the early 2000s.

A single actor conveys the stories of the nine women, Sarab Kamoo, who is also co-director of this production. Kamoo, always a very physical actress ready for anything, uses different movements, vocal techniques, with additional costume strategies designed by Karen Kangas-Preston to make her characters stand out as separate and distinct women.

There are nine different women depicted: a traditional Iraqi woman in a traditional black chador drowning lost shoes in the river; a woman going about the life of an artist who only paints nudes in a country that seeks to cover every woman from head to toe; a boisterous Bedouin girl sharing her story of her ex-husbands and her life away from Iraq in London; a drunk complaining about Saddam Hussein and being stuck in a civil war-torn country divided by two tribal traditions; a pregnant doctor explaining the problems Iraqis have had with radiation from past bombings; a young girl grappling with the loss of her father over words she said casually at school in front of ruthless law enforcement; a tourist guide showing where people died from the bombings; an Iraqi-American struggling with a loss of communication with his family abroad; and a woman who steals the prop pieces that specifically distinguish some of the other characters and attempts to sell them to tourists.

John Lepard helps Kamoo spread his characters with musical selections associated with different times the character vignettes happened. Lepard’s music and Becca Bedell’s light extinguishing techniques give Kamboo time to put on or take off the black chador and switch between properly placed character accessories in order to transition from character to character. another with a permanent change. It may have been a director’s choice to reduce the moments between vignettes, but in doing so some characters began to bleed into each other. Juggling nine characters in the air is tricky for any actor.

One of the highlights of this production is the enormity of the setting. It’s a breathtaking three-level set with a real running river at the base. Jennifer Maiseloff designed an ensemble that looks like a bombshell with classic arches and fills the entire push-stage area. Projections were even created by Quinn Legge to add stunning views of the Middle Eastern city in the distance. The set consists of a multitude of paintings and books that add color and life to the whole. All levels are used, and the show almost begins and ends with the water feature. One of Kamboo’s characters cleanses himself so intensely in the river that I wondered if viewers sitting nearby were also getting a spritz.

The connection between the live action game and the still art is taken to another level by local artist Barb Whitney who has created original artwork to represent each of the nine characters. His work is located in the back hall and is for sale.

9 parts of desire is an admirable work that truly delves into the other side of the war that many Americans have only seen on CNN. This production shows a side of the war of seldom-heard women’s voices who are still primary caregivers and nurturers despite the culture’s emphasis on suppressing them in servanthood.

The play runs until February 27. Tickets can be purchased at www.williamstontheatre.org or by phone at 517-655-7469. Members of the public must show vaccination cards and wear masks.

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