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'I intended to write a piece about the Iraqi psyche, something that would inform and enlighten.'

Editor's Note: Performances are canceled through April 8 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Heather Raffo's critically acclaimed "9 Parts of Desire" is currently playing at Portland Center Stage at The Armory, starring Nora el Samahy.

An intimate and complex examination of the extraordinary (and ordinary) lives of nine Iraqi women, this remarkable solo work offers a meditation on what it means to be a woman in a country overshadowed by war.

Based on Raffo's interviews with real women during the reign and fall of Saddam Hussein, COURTESY PHOTO  - Nora el Samahy presents an intimate and complex examination of the extraordinary (and ordinary) lives of nine Iraqi women in '9 Parts of Desire.' The solo work offers a meditation on what it means to be a woman in a country overshadowed by war. Raffo weaves nine utterly distinct voices into a tapestry of humanity, love and endurance in the face of oppression.

"With rare exception, these stories are not told verbatim. Most are composites, and although each character is based on research, I consider all the women in my play to be dramatized characters in a poetic story," Raffo said. "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." 

An American with a father born in Iraq, Raffo was visiting her family in Iraq in 1993 when she saw a haunting painting of a nude woman clinging to a barren tree in the Saddam Art Center in Baghdad. The painting, titled "Savagery," stuck with Raffo, and became the seed for "9 Parts of Desire."

While the painter herself had been killed by an American bomb, Raffo was able to talk with and interview other artists and women who were her contemporaries. Those interviews informed and inspired the characters depicted in the play.

"9 Parts of Desire" premiered in August 2003 at the Traverse Theater, Edinburgh, before moving to London's Off-West End, were it received critical acclaim.

It was then developed and performed as a reading at The Public Theater as part of their New Work Now festival. It premiered Off-Broadway at the Manhattan Ensemble Theater. It has since been performed across the United States, and produced internationally.

In 2009, Raffo created a concert version of the play for The Kennedy Center with renowned Iraqi maqam musician, Amir ElSaffar called "Sounds of Desire."

Evren Odcikin (interim associate director at Oregon Shakespeare Festival) will direct. Nora el Samahy will take on each of the nine roles, making her debut at The Armory.

The play runs through April 19 with shows at 7:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and 11 a.m. Thursdays in the Ellyn Bye Studio at The Armory, 128 N.W. 11th Ave., Portland.

Tickets range from $25 to $62 and can be purchased online at pcs.org or by calling the box office at 503-445-3700 or in person at the box office, 128 NW 11th Ave., Portland.

The play is recommended for ages 14 and up as it contains adult situations and explicit language. 


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