“Heather Raffo’s 9 Parts of Desire”
Performance Network

Through Oct. 26
Saturdays at 8 p.m.: $39
Thursdays 8 p.m.: $27
Saturdays 3 p.m.: $25
Fridays 8 p.m. and Sundays 2 p.m.: $32
$10 off advance student tickets (except Saturday evening)
Half-price student RUSH tickets for the day of

With a single performer on one small stage in Ann Arbor, “Heather Raffo’s 9 Parts of Desire” leads a journey through the physically and mentally ravaged psyches of nine Iraqi women. Sarab Kamoo fluidly transitions between Layal, the curator at the Saddam Art Center; a young Iraqi girl who loves ‘N Sync; and an American-Iraqi gripping a rosary while watching CNN and praying for her family.

Sound like a lot of personalities to balance? There’s also Umm Ghada, a survivor of a bombed shelter where 431 civilians were killed, including her entire family. In one heart-wrenching scene, Kamoo plays a doctor who desperately and viciously laments the genetic deformities and cancer caused by depleted uranium.

Raffo’s playwriting, Kamoo’s performance and the direction of Edward Nahhat infuse this show with all varieties of human emotion. Layal comes on within the first few minutes of the show to tell the audience, “I love it, but I hate it here.” There is pain, yes, but the women Kamoo plays demonstrate an incredible capacity for understanding, compassion and love.

Raffo, whose father is Iraqi, was inspired to write the show after a trip to Iraq in 1993 where she found a “haunting painting of a nude woman clinging to a barren tree” in a back-room of the Saddam Art Center. Raffo collected stories from Iraqi women and “listened deeply to what each woman said, what (they) wanted to say but couldn’t and what (they) never knew how to say. Then (Raffo) wrote her song.”

The analogy to songwriting extends to the melodic nature of Kamoo’s performance. A play is never anything without its actors, and this is particularly true of a one-person show. Having performed “Desire” in two other venues, Kamoo says she is “more comfortable in the skin of these women” and it’s abundantly clear that Kamoo understands what she’s doing on stage.

Walking from an upscale living room to the wasteland of a bombed-out shelter, Kamoo travels through time and space without ever leaving the stage. She switches between regular contemporary clothing and an abaya — traditional garb for Arab women — that she occasionally alters. The minimal scene change only accentuates her natural transitions between characters.

Raffo first performed “9 Parts of Desire” in Edinburgh in 2003, and since then it’s been on stage in London, New York and elsewhere in the United States. She has periodically adapted the show according to current events. An Iraqi expatriate living in London, she voices the most political opinions about Saddam and his regime. Clearly conflicted, she both embraces and rejects the war. She speaks of the massacres committed by Saddam yet asks what this war means for Iraqis and Americans alike: “If you want to sculpt a nation, you cannot hack away at it without a plan for the human being.”

The human being lies at the center of this emotionally charged show. The women speak of war, love, rape, memory, traveling, death and birth, and as the Iraqi-American character says “we just keep going.” War is a part of life, and of these women’s lives in particular, but here we take an opportunity to look at “another side of the war”: The human side.

Raffo is a “songwriter” of stories and Kamoo acts out these stories for the audience. In regards to playing the role, Kamoo voiced her love for this rare opportunity.

“I feel so incredibly blessed,” Kamoo said. “It’s something I have to do.”

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