Encore Michigan

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

Review February 10, 2022 Julie Linderleaf

WILLIAMSTON, MIch.– With a play title like 9 Parts of Desire scheduled in the month of hearts and romance, one would think that it might be a play with the entanglements of a love story. That is far from the case with this one-actor play presented by The Williamston Theatre.

Heather Raffo’s 9 Parts of Desire is a seriously moving play about the lives of nine separate Iraqi women and their intense life struggles in a war-torn Muslim country where the rights of women are somewhere below that of family pets. Women represent half the population in Iraq, but are almost invisible in public. In this ultra-conservative society, a woman’s place is neither at school nor at work, but out of sight at home.

Heather Raffo, an Assyrian American with roots in Michigan, formed the premise for this production on a trip to the Saddam Art Center in Baghdad in 1993, not long after Operation Desert Storm. She developed and acted in the first productions of the show in the early 2000’s.

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

There are nine different women portrayed: a traditional Iraqi woman in a traditional black chador drowning lost shoes in the river; a woman dealing with life as an artist that only paints nudes in a country that seeks to cover every woman from head to toe; a loud bedouin sharing her story about past husbands and life away from Iraq in London; a drunk complaining about Sadam Hussein and being stuck in a civil war-torn country divided by two tribal traditions; a pregnant doctor explaining about the problems Iraqi people have due to the radiation from past bombing attacks; a young girl dealing with the loss of her father due to words she casually said at school in front of unforgiving law enforcement; a tour guide showing where people died due to bombings; an Iraqi-American dealing with losing communication with family overseas; 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 disseminate her characters with musical selections paired with different moments when the character vignettes occurred. Lepard’s music and Becca Bedell’s lighting black out techniques give Kamboo time to don or remove the black chador and move from properly placed character props in order to flow from one character to another with a definitive change. It may be a directorial choice to lessen the moments between vignettes, but in doing so some of the characters began to bleed into one another. Juggling nine characters in the air is tricky for any actor.

One of the highlights of this production is the enormity of the set. It’s a jaw-dropping three-tiered set with an actual running river at the base. Jennifer Maiseloff designed a set that looks bomb worn with classic arches and fills the entire thrust stage area. Projections were even created by Quinn Legge to add an expansive view 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 set. All the levels are utilized, and the show begin and almost ends with the water feature. One of Kamboo’s characters gives herself such an intense cleansing in the river, I wondered if the audience members sitting nearby received a spritzing as well.

The connection of the live-action play to still art is taken to another level by local artist Barb Whitney who created original art to portray each of the nine characters. Her work is located in the back lobby and is for sale.

9 Parts of Desire is an admirable work that really dips into the other side of war that many Americans only saw on CNN. This production shows a side of war from the voices of seldom heard women who are still the primary caregivers and nurturers despite the culture’s focus on suppressing them into servant status.

The play runs through February 27.  Tickets can be purchased at www.williamstontheatre.org or call 517-655-7469. Audience members need to show vaccination cards and wear masks.

Week of 9/25/2023

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