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Nine Female Faces of War

The struggle of Iraqi women finds a face at the University Theatre

The UO Department of Theatre Arts continues to bring new perspectives to the stage with its production of 9 Parts of Desire, a play that delves into the lives of Iraqi women. The play is set to debut in March, marking the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War.

Iraqi-American playwright Heather Raffo wrote (and has acted in) the piece to connect with American audiences and communicate the struggles that Iraqi women face.  It’s working the play has received shining accolades from The New Yorker, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal -— and perhaps that’s because Raffo spent 11 years researching and interviewing people across four continents before putting pen to paper. Nine distinct characters, all Iraqi women in various stations of life including an artist, communist and an exile tell their stories as intimate confessionals. Initially intended to be a one-person show, the UO performance will feature eight separate actresses. A chorus of all eight actresses fills out the ninth role.

 “Each woman expresses her personal views on how the war affected her,” says Michael Najjar, an assistant professor at UO and the play’s director. “It brings to fore the voices of the people who were affected by the war, not the warriors themselves, not the people in power, but the people who were exiled by war or lost family members.” 

Through a series of monologues, 9 Parts of Desire lets the viewer peek past the shrouded figures that often come to mind at the mention of Iraqi women. The iconic image of an Iraqi woman in a hijab creates a physical barrier, making it difficult to connect with the individual behind the veil. Raffo’s play challenges this perception by illustrating the vivid personalities of Iraqi women, offering contrary viewpoints and revealing multiple dimensions to commonly stereotyped characters. 

The disclosures from a bitter wife gain perspective when paired with the laments of a war-zone doctor. Each character tells her own story and contributes to the play’s larger message of diversity and complexity within a culture largely misunderstood by the West.

Bringing in female perspectives, Najjar says, is particularly important. “Women have to bear the brunt of the loss and tragedies that wars bring,” he says. “The female voice is so often ignored or lost within this greater dialogue that’s mainly carried out by males.”

By mimicking a Middle Eastern-style of theater where an audience encircles the storyteller, Najjar says he hopes to “create a sense of community” and offer an intimate performance. 

9 Parts of Desire plays March 7-17 at the UO’s Hope Theatre. Call 346-4363 for more information.