Any viewer would benefit from seeing 9 Parts of Desire, currently showing at the Berkeley Repertory Theater; it gives a human face to the Iraqi people more than anything else available in the media today.
In this one-woman play, actress Mozhan Marno takes on nine different roles, all Iraqi women. She portrays characters who range from a teenage girl obsessed with both N*Sync and the sounds of artillery exploding around her, to an old widow who leads tours of the bomb shelter in which her entire family was killed.
Marno approaches each role with a shocking entirety – her accent, body language, and facial expressions transform so much that the few onstage costume changes she makes are more than sufficient. As played by Marno, each character is so unique and unmistakable that the minimal props (a stethoscope, a paintbrush, some scarves and a large black cape-like piece of fabric) are almost unnecessary.
The beauty of Marno's acting is that it allows the story of each woman to shine through. She portrays an Iraq that goes beyond anything that we see on the news or in magazines; 9 Parts of Desire brings the horror of Iraq into a real place – no longer just clips on the news or still pictures in the paper.
The women she embodies include Hooda, an ex-patriate living in London who was vehemently anti-war in the past, but is also haunted by the atrocities she saw in prison under Saddam. Hooda finds herself supporting the American campaign. Another character is a nameless doctor who cries over radiation-caused birth defects she sees in record numbers, babies born with two heads or without heads at all, before telling the audience that she's pregnant. At times the women speak directly to their American audience, addressing them as fellow people. When the doctor at one point cries out, "Look at us! Look at us!" the desperation in her voice is gut wrenching.
Each woman has a different, deeply personal perspective. Playwright Heather Raffo wrote the play after a visit to Baghdad's Saddam Art Center where, after seeing room after room of portraits of Saddam, she came across a painting of a nude woman clinging to a tree. In researching the artist, she found herself hearing the stories of the many Iraqi women who inspired the characters of the play – all of whom serve as composites.
The desperation of these nine women and the way that the first person stories bring their world to life gives us an all too needed glimpse into the lives of the people in whose country we currently wage war.
"9 Parts of Desire" runs Jan. 20-Mar. 5 at the Berkeley Repertory Theater, 2025 Addison St, Berkeley. 90 min. $45-$59, half-price tickets available during certain shows, and for students. For more info visit www.berkeleyrep.org.