Lillete Dubey’s play 9 Parts of Desire, written by Heather Raffo, is set in Iraq, but could be about women anywhere, surviving in hostile conditions. Iraq suffered under Saddam’s Hussein’s brutal regime, the Gulf War and the American invasion and while men go to war, women and children are also casualties of conflicts imposed on them.
The play takes its title from the words of an Islamic leader, Ali ibn Abu Taleb, who said that "God created sexual desire in ten parts; then he gave nine parts to women and one to men.” The Iraqi women in the play—Raffo is half American, half Iraqi, that allows her to see both sides—have lost their children, their homes, their men, their freedom, their rights and, in one case, artistic integrity. A woman stoically takes tourists around a bomb shelter where she lost nine family members, the seemingly comfortable exile in London, who can recall with suppressed rage, the torment women were put through to torture by the men—rape was routine and one woman had to hear her newborn child being thrown to hungry cats. It is not possible to even imagine such cruelty or horror, but men inflict it on their own people. Those who escape go through another kind of suffering--one woman in the play keeps watching news of her country in CNN and wondering what her loved ones are going through.
Heather Raffo has performed the play herself, and won awards for playwriting and acting; Lillete Dubey has cast daughter Ira, who plays multiple parts with confidence and empathy. The women do not want to come across as victims, but want their stories to be told, their voices heard.
Raffo wrote about the process of creating the play, “I intended to write a piece about the Iraqi psyche, something that would inform and enlighten the images we see on TV. However, the play is equally about the American psyche. It is a dialogue between east and west. The characters are deeply engaged in circumstances unique to them as Iraqis and yet through their passions seem to answer the concerns of the west…”
Raffo’s play presents stories of a few women, but they contain the experiences of many more. The fact that the play has been running successfully for several months now, and always attracts an audience goes to show that theatre can make audiences forget about boundaries and listen to distant voices that strain to be heard.