Nine Parts of Desire (Arabic: تسعة اجزاء من
الرغبة) is a play written by Heather Raffo.
In the original version of the play, a single performer plays all nine
Heather Raffo herself has acted in productions of Nine
Parts of Desire. Some productions opt to use multiple actors.
Joanna Settle directed the play's first productions.
Michael Billington of
The Guardian wrote that the play's "great
virtue" "is that it not only deals with the plight of Iraqi women but
forces us to confront the moral issues of war." Melissa Rose
Entertainment Weekly wrote that "What Raffo unearths,
beneath the aforementioned Saddam-inflicted atrocities, is the
universal and very basic human trait of insecurity." Billington
added that "The play raises a difficult question, especially for those
opposed to the recent war: what should the west have done about
2 Creation and conception
8 Further reading
9 External links
The title originates from a statement from
Ali that "God created
sexual desire in 10 parts; then he gave nine parts to women and one to
men." This statement is from a hadith in the 100 Maxims of Imam
Ali. Lauren Sandler of
The New York Times
The New York Times wrote that "The play's
emphasis on sex is inherent in its title." Geraldine Brooks had
used this statement as a title of her 1995 book, Nine Parts of Desire.
The only aspect the book by Brooks and the play share are the
title. Raffo thanked Brooks for inspiration in the program of the
Creation and conception
Heather Raffo in Fishelson's production of 9 Parts of Desire at
Manhattan Ensemble Theatre, 2005.
During an August 1993 trip to
Baghdad to see family, Heather Raffo
visited the Saddam Art Center. According to Raffo, a painting titled
"Savagery", depicting a naked woman holding onto a tree, gave her
the inspiration to make this play. This painting was made by Layla
al-Attar. Raffo was curious about the life of Al-Attar, and in the
play she placed the al-Attar character prominently.
Raffo had, for ten years, interviewed Iraqi women from various social
backgrounds, and she used this information to write the play. Some
women were strangers to her and some were relatives. According to
Raffo, "[being an Iraqi] got me in the door" but that the women were
more willing to confide in her because she was also an American.
In 1998 Raffo declared that she would use this concept as her Master
of Fine Arts thesis. As part of the thesis, she did a 20-minute
performance at the
Old Globe Theatre
Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, California. The
final play was created in 2003.
The characters are composites of the Iraqi women Raffo had
interviewed. If one actress portrays all the characters, she may
wear an abaya differently each time she portrays a distinct
character. There were no changes of costume in Raffo's original
performance, and instead there was only a difference in how the abaya
is worn. In the play Raffo used different accents to portray regional
and class differences; at the time she first performed the play she
did not know Arabic. The abaya itself is also used as a prop.
The women are, in order: Mulaya, Layal, Amal, Huda, the doctor, the
girl, Umm Ghada, the American, and Nanna.
Mulaya - The first character in the play. Mulaya is a woman who
responds and lead calls to women at funerals. The play does not
state the identity of the person who hired Mulaya. Magda Romanska of
Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics wrote that Mulaya's mourning is
directed at all of Iraq rather than a specific person, and that "In a
way, she is more symbolic figuration than character". "Mulaya" is
the traditional name of a woman hired at funerals.
Joel Hirschhorn of Variety describes her as "a poignant, pitiable
Layal (the name means "all the nights") - She is the play's main
speaker. An artist from Baghdad, Layal is the curator of the Saddam
Art Center. Layal has a privileged position and she is the only
artist in Iraq allowed to make nude paintings. She had been forced
into having sexual relations with Saddam's sons. She had watched
the execution of one of her friends, who died after being fed to
dogs. She survives during the rule of Saddam because she painted
portraits of Saddam Hussein. The end of the play reveals that
Layal has been killed in a bombing by American missile. She is
based on an Iraqi artist, Layla Attar, who died in 1993 after her
house was bombed by American missile.
When Raffo played Layal, in the words of Maria Beach of the Theatre
Journal, she "[moved] with a confident grace that is betrayed by
nervous giggles" and "[stroked] her throat sensually". The abaya is
draped on the character's shoulders.
Romanska wrote that Layal "struggles to maintain a coherent
self-image" because she feels trapped by the conflicting perceptions
of herself being a victim, collaborator, and critic of Saddam's
government, and that Layal operates on a survival mode because she is
so deeply traumatized by what she has experienced. Billington
wrote that even though Layal is "apparently compromised by her
complicity with Saddam's regime" she "defends herself vigorously and,
through her painting, brings to life a wide range of oppressed Iraqi
women". John Lahr of
The New Yorker
The New Yorker wrote that "Of the many
atrocities that the women report, the most compelling is the spiritual
mutation of Layal, whose collaboration with Saddam’s regime leaves
her internally empty and morally bankrupt. She is beyond shame or
pity." Hirschhorn argues that Layal is the "most fascinating
personality" of the play. Romanska also wrote that Layal both
subtly criticizes Saddam's government and sympathizes with it at the
Amal - A
Bedouin woman who talks about her romantic issues, Amal,
who wears an abaya, is fat, and the production calls for the
costume to give the appearance of a fat woman. Beach described Amal
as "sweetly sensitive". In her story, she moves to London with her
husband and two children. She discovers that her husband is having
sexual intercourse with her best friend.
Nine Parts of Desire does
not state whether she divorced her husband; Amal moves back to Iraq
after her discovery, leaving her husband. She later moves to
Israel and becomes the second wife of one of her father's friends, an
Arab tribesman. Amal takes care of the eight children of the first
wife because that wife leaves for periods of several months. Amal
leaves the Israeli Arab when he does not take the family to Canada
like he promises. In Baghdad, Amal is rejected by a friend of her
ex-husband after the two have a year-long correspondence over the
telephone. She returns to her first husband who is still in
Lauren Sandler of
The New York Times
The New York Times wrote that Amal "confesses
heartbreak and desire in a monologue that sounds more
HBO than how
some audiences might perceive women in the Middle East." The woman
who Amal was based on saw a production of the play in 2003.
Huda (or Hooda) - Huda, 70 years old, is a resident of London who
believes that the United States should have removed Saddam Hussein
from power during the 1991 Gulf War. Hooda drinks and smokes. A
leftist and an academic, Huda left Iraq in 1963. Before she
left Iraq, she was a member of a political party opposed to the Ba'th
Party. She was imprisoned. After leaving Iraq, she was involved in
many political causes. Romanska wrote that Huda "left Iraq a long time
ago, and by now should have adjusted to her new life, but Huda lives
in her past, reliving traumatic memories from the old country."
She has ambivalent feelings about the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Even
though she is opposed to U.S. imperialism, she has a strong hatred of
Romanska wrote that "Next to Layal, Huda is perhaps the most complex
of the nine characters."
The Doctor - A woman, educated in the United Kingdom, she had
returned to Iraq in order to help her country. She had treated
various injuries related to war. The doctor's hospital is in a poor
condition and she encounters negative effects of uranium weapons,
including newborn babies with mutations. Her name is not stated and
she is referred to as "The Doctor".
The Girl - A 9-year-old girl, this character has no name. She
enjoys listening to 'N Sync. Her mother withdrew her from school after
some American soldiers had visited the school. She actively follows
American popular culture
American popular culture through the television and satellite. She
believes American soldiers appear like Justin Timberlake. Romanska
states that she describes violent events and possibilities
"matter-of-factly, so used to the twisted reality around her that she
appears unaware of its horror." Romanska states that it is common
for survivors of traumatic events to feel a sense of numbness. The
girl describes the death of her grandparents; they were unwilling to
answer the door and did not speak English, and a tank killed them
afterwards. The girl can distinguish types of weapons from hearing
them fired. Romanska stated, "She is proud of this skill and brags
about it with a blasé attitude, on the same emotional scale with
which she chats about
Justin Timberlake and Oprah".
Beach stated that when Raffo played the girl, she "[danced] with
awkward exuberance to music videos on satellite television." The
character wears the abaya twisted into a braid.
Umm Ghada - She describes the February 13, 1991 Amiriyah shelter
bombing by the United States. She lost her family in the
bombing. She had since become a caretaker of the site, and
serves as its guide. Since the bombing she had moved into a yellow
trailer outside of the site and began calling herself "Umm Ghada" or
"mother of Ghada" after her deceased daughter. The name "Ghada"
also means "tomorrow" and the character states "so I am Umm Ghada,
Mother of Tomorrow. My full name is dead with them." Umm Ghada
makes it her singular life mission to tell the world what had
happened, and Romanska states that this reaction is typical of trauma
survivors; Romanska added that "Her life never returns to normal, as
she is unable to function outside of the shelter", and that she
had lost her personal identity as a result of the bombing. Umm
Ghada is based on a real person.
Twair argues she is "[p]erhaps the most tragic" character.
The American - The woman, an
Iraqi American exile in Manhattan,
has family in Iraq and watches the news of the war in Iraq. Her
monologues are scattered throughout the play. She is anxious for
news about her family. She recites the names of Iraqi relatives
while holding a rosary and watching
CNN coverage of bombing in
Baghdad. She engages in trivial pursuits in order to stay sane but
cannot enjoy those pursuits. Romanska wrote "Watching the bombs come
down on her family neighborhood, the American is stunned by her own
sense of alienation: She has grown to identify herself as an American,
and now, she is asked to view herself as the other, the enemy."
The character has no name. Pat McDonnell Twair of The Middle East
wrote that the character "may even be Raffo herself". Romanska
refers to her as the "alter ego" of Raffo.
Nanna - An elderly street peddler who had lived through Iraq's
political turmoil, she sells objects salvaged from destroyed
structures to U.S. Marines. The final item she attempts to sell is
Savagery, a painting by Layal. The play indicates in this way that
Layal is now dead.
Marilyn Stasio of Variety describes her as a "Mother Courage-like
The play opened in August 2003 at the
Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh,
Scotland. In September of that year, it debuted off west end in
the Bush Theatre. From October 2004 to May 2005, it debuted
off-Broadway at the
Manhattan Ensemble Theatre.
Raffo and Amir ElSaffar, an Iraqi maqam musician, created a concert
version. This version played at The Kennedy Center.
Magda Romanska of Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics wrote that
there was a "general enthusiasm" for the play when it was first
released. She stated that at the time of the release, "There was
curiosity about Iraq and Iraqis in the US, at the same time as the
invasion was presented to American people as if it were meant to
'liberate' Iraq, and particularly oppressed Iraqi women." The
writing of the play occurred before the
2003 Invasion of Iraq
2003 Invasion of Iraq but the
release happened after the invasion.
The Independent named this play as one of the five best
plays. In regards to the 2003 performance at the Traverse Theatre,
Billington wrote that "Although Raffo is a fine actress, her
transitions from one character to another are not always sharply
defined. But aesthetic niggles pale beside the importance of her
subject." Twair wrote that the performance in London in the
September 2003 season was ranked among the best five plays in
Bernardo gave the performance opening on October 9, 2004 an "A-".
In regards to a 2004 performance in New York City, Stasio wrote "While
a full-cast production might have given this incendiary material a
more devastating impact, it's impossible to hear the voices of these
women without wanting to line up to sign their witness book."
Stasio was referring to a scene where Umm Ghada asks the audience to
sign her witness book.
Damaso Reyes of the
New York Amsterdam News wrote regarding the 2004
New York performance that ""Nine Parts" would be an amazing experience
if it contained a full cast, but Ms. Raffo's solo performance makes it
even more spectacular. She seamlessly shifts from one character to
another and then back again to stitch together a narrative which
attempts to give the audience a far deeper understanding of the world
of Iraq's women than anything we have seen before."
Hirschhorn argued that the differentiation of the characters "isn’t
as clear as it could be, and Raffo’s unrelentingly impassioned
portrayal can grow exhausting. Some modulation and subtlety would give
the audience room to respond more fully."
Geraldine Brooks, the author of the book Nine Parts of Desire, wrote
that "It is resonant. It unpeels layer upon layer of the characters'
lives, never reaching for the easy or simple assumptions about who or
what is to blame for their predicaments." 
Romanska, Magda. "Trauma and testimony: Heather Raffo's 9 Parts of
Desire." (Arabic: بقلم هيذر رفّو الصدمة
المفجعة والشهادة: " تسعة أجزاء
للرغبة") Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics,
ISSN 1110-8673. Department of English and Comparative Literature,
American University in Cairo
American University in Cairo and
American University in Cairo
American University in Cairo Press,
2010, Issue 30: Trauma and Memory (الفجمعة والذاكرة),
p. 211-239. Available at The Free Library, Available at
Available at JSTOR
Twair, Pat McDonnell. "NINE PARTS OF DESIRE." The Middle East,
ISSN 0305-0734, 12/2005, Issue 362, p. 56.
^ a b c Bernardo, Melissa Rose. "Nine Parts Of Desire (2004 - 2004)."
Entertainment Weekly. October 29, 2004. Retrieved on April 12, 2014.
ISSN 1049-0434, 10/2004, Issue 790, p. 77.
^ a b c d Montoya, Maria C. and David Cuthbert. "Theater Guy: Loyola
stages Heather Raffo's nine-character monologue play." The
Times-Picayune. February 23, 2008. Retrieved on April 13, 2014.
^ a b c d e Billington, Michael. "Nine Parts of Desire." The Guardian.
Tuesday 5 August 2003. Retrieved on April 13, 2014.
^ Teachout, Terry. "Invisible Women." The Wall Street Journal. January
14, 2005. Page W7 New York. Retrieved on April 13, 2014.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Sandler, Lauren. "An American and Her Nine
Iraqi Sisters." The New York Times. October 17, 2004. Retrieved on
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^ a b c d e f g Beach, Maria. "Nine Parts of Desire" (review). Theatre
Journal, ISSN 0192-2882, 03/2006, Volume 58, Issue 1, pp. 102 -
103. - DOI 10.1353/tj.2006.0059
^ "9 Parts of Desire" (Archive).
Heather Raffo Official Website.
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^ a b Romanska, p. 219.
^ a b c d e f g h i Hirschhorn, Joel. "Review: ‘Nine Parts of
Desire’." Variety. September 15, 2005. Retrieved on April 12, 2014.
^ Romanska, 213.
^ Romanska, 213-214.
^ a b c d Twair, p. 58.
^ a b c d Romanska, 214.
^ Morales, Jorge. "Smart Bombs." The Village Voice. Tuesday October
19, 2004. Retrieved on April 14, 2014.
^ Romanska, p. 218.
^ a b c Romanska, p. 220
^ a b c d Lahr, John. "THE FURY AND THE JURY." The New Yorker. Posted
on November 1, 2004, in the issue of November 8, 2004. Retrieved on
April 13, 2014.
^ a b Romanska, p. 233.
^ Romanska, p. 221.
^ a b c d e f g h i Romanska, p. 225.
^ a b Romanska, p. 222.
^ a b Romanska, p. 223.
^ a b c Isherwood, Charles. "A Solitary Woman, Embodying All of Iraq."
The New York Times. October 14, 2004. Retrieved on April 14, 2014.
^ a b c Romanska, p. 224.
^ a b c d e f g h Stasio, Marilyn. "NINE PARTS OF DESIRE." Variety.
ISSN 0042-2738, 10/2004, Volume 396, Issue 10, p. 56. Available
at HighBeam Research. Available at
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Essentials, Gale Document number: GALEA124257051
^ a b c Twair, p. 59.
^ a b Romanska, p. 226.
^ a b Romanska, p. 228.
^ a b c Romanska, p. 229.
^ Romanska, p. 228-229.
^ Romanska, p. 227.
^ a b Twair, p. 57.
^ Romanska, p. 230.
^ a b "About" (Archive).
Heather Raffo Official Website. Retrieved on
April 13, 2014.
^ a b c Romanska, p. 212.
^ Reyes, Damaso. "Nine Parts of Desire." New York Amsterdam News,
ISSN 0028-7121, 01/2005, Volume 96, Issue 2, p. 23. ProQuest
document ID: 390223481.
"Heather Raffo's 9 Parts of Desire." Drama for Students, 2010,
ISBN 0787681237, Volume 27, pp. 95 – 115.
Mahadi, Tengku Sepora and Maysoon Taher Muhi (School of Languages,
Literacies and Translation of Universiti Sains Malaysia). "Shahrzad
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9 Parts of Desire -
Heather Raffo Official Website
9 Parts of Desire/Press -
Heather Raffo Official Website
Nine Parts of Desire -
Manhattan Ensemble Theater (MET) Productions
Older versions of this page (Archive)
Nine Parts of Desire at the Internet
"CSS Theatre Proudly Presents: 9 Parts of Desire By Heather Raffo"
(Archive). The College of St. Scholastica. Study Guide compiled by
Sher Her and L