Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Heather Raffo's 9 Parts of Desire

Last week, a friend of mine in the theater scene here in Chicago offered the wife and me a couple tickets to the premiere of Heather Raffo's 9 Parts of Desire (please note that this link will probably become obsolete in a couple weeks), put on by The Next Theatre Company in collaboration with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. The wife couldn't make it, but I found another friend who could take advantage of it.

I'm not really a theatre person nor do I have the best memory in the world, so I really don't have the best concept of what was going on in the play. The essential part is that Heather Raffo plays the part of nine Iraqi women, most of them in Iraq but one of them in the US, watching TV and freaking out, of all ages, from one young girl responsible for the kidnapping of her father by Saddam's men to a few old women who remember times before Saddam's oppression and when Iraq actually was a prosperous nation.

The perspectives of the various women did a great job of addressing the complicated situation. Some of the women were glad that Saddam was deposed (and I think killed), some welcomed the US as liberators, at least mentioned that they would have rather the invasion of Iraq by the US didn't happen, much terror, fear and sadness in the face of both Saddam and the US. The play really made for a montage of mood, throwing in the audience's faces the feeling of life in Iraq for women and the effect of it on some Iraqi women outside of Iraq. At the same time, the women had sprinkles of laughter, joy, whimsy and a bittersweetness mixed with all the horribleness.

For the last year or so, I've done a lot of not paying attention to the news and feeling major compassion fatigue in regards to the Middle East, Iraq, Israel, Afghanistan, etc. etc. A lot of the stuff that has become topics nowadays (torture, depleted uranium in bullets, Iraqi casualties not being counted, etc. etc.) are things that I had read about four or so years ago when the Iraq war had begun and soon after through the not-so-mainstream news sources that I had found on the Internet and the Web. I started early and by the time all these horrible topics reached the mainstream press, I had become fatigued, tired, felt powerless and frustrated with the American people for not realizing all the atrocities that we had entered when they had been occurring.

Now I can only look with cynicism at a lot of the news, talk about the situation by the people on the street, etc. etc. that goes on these days while I moodily retreat into my apartment. I work on my bachelors project, hoping that it will bring knowledge to the world, hold a mirror up to people's faces of how people anesthetize their own consciousnesses and possibly bring everyone hope that there's something better for us, if we just put our minds to it. There's also a little bit where I hope that publishing this novel, selling many copies, getting the attention of the press and the people of the nation, maybe I can spend more time being politically active and doing charitable things to better people's lives, maybe I can spend more attention to world events and actually do things about them instead of feel pulled to reading about them and signing petitions and also toward my obligations and duties.

Heather Raffo's 9 Parts of Desire did a good job of throwing the atrocities happening in Iraq in my face, though, while also keeping things human. When the atrocities were brought up, I felt reminded of everything that I had stayed away from because I could do nothing about fixing them. I witnessed the witnessed confession of torture witnessed and torture testified to. These confessions awoke the tears (that never came) in me and the twisting grip on my heart. I remembered that somewhere, people lived lives much worse than me, and I really didn't have much right to complain about my own life. . .but neither did I have the right to remain complacent and wallow in self pity.

Tonight, I may not accomplish a ton in the true trajectory of my life, but even by doing rudimentary, maintenance type of things, I work to bring myself closer to the point where I might have some influence on the world to improve it or at least have more time to join masses in their attempts to make the world better. I was reminded, without really any preaching, in a complicated fashion, that true evil exists in the world, ultra-egoism exists in the world, blind eyes exist in the world and all types of ignorance, hate and so on and so forth that contribute to the horribleness in our world that also holds so much good (and the only way to truly fight the evil is to promote good acts and kindness in the world around us. . .and there's probably plenty of complicated non-violent ways to try defusing evil, too).

So, all in all, Heather Raffo's 9 Parts of Desire works very well as a mood piece that provides snippets of humanity and victims of inhumanity to an audience that lives a fairly comfortable life. Some may even say that our comfortable lives come from the evil elsewhere in the world.

The whole piece generally drew me in and only near the end, during a self indulgent part or two where I thought would make a great ending, did I feel distanced and pulled out of the play and the mood. It felt as if the art became more important than the mood, even though those moments of self-indulgence would have made great endings to the play that would have struck home with the humanity of the piece. Nonetheless, baring through a few minutes of endings (probably 1/15th of the play or so) proves quite rewarding as the stage fades to black on a poor peddling woman, selling the leftover ruined artifacts of a once great nation, destroyed by ideology, greed and war.

Even with the few minutes of distancing self-indulgence, the play still hits hard and will make the most cynical and withdrawn anti-war human remember their sentiments of hoping to make a difference and helping the world be a better place, even if they're just one person without much wealth or influence. Before the play started, the person introducing it asked people to turn off their cell phones but to please turn them on when the play ended, so everyone could call their friends and tell them what a great play Heather Raffo's 9 Parts of Desire was. He didn't lie. . .except that maybe it took a little time to compose myself before being able to speak and give the play its due. . .without letting my emotions choke up my ability to articulate the power of the play.

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