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Nine Parts of Desire
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Group: Heather Raffo

Dolan Cummings

Heather Raffo is an Iraqi-American playwright who refuses to play the role of either apologist for Saddam or cheerleader for the West.

Nine Parts of Desire includes condemnation both of the brutality of the late Iraqi regime, and of the American-led war that removed it. 'If you can imagine all your family living inside the World Trade Center, that's what the Gulf War was like from here,' says an Iraqi-American character.

Raffo plays several characters, centred around Layal, an artist in Baghdad. Layal courts controversy by painting female nudes. More than that, it is rumoured that she survives by sleeping with senior members of the regime. Must she be compromised as an artist? But then, 'if all the artists leave, who will be left to inspire the people?' The exiles are just as ill-at-ease with their consciences.

While the play does shed light on what it is like to be Iraqi, both in Iraq and in the West, its real strength is in addressing questions of identity more broadly. Femininity is a vexed category not only in countries where women are oppressed, and the role of the artist is increasingly unclear whether in Baghdad, New York or London.

Amal, the most likeable of Raffo's characters, says that as a Bedouin, 'I see with my heart, not my eyes'. Layal seems to aspire to the same condition, but Raffo's play demonstrates considerable craft, suggesting that her own art owes as much to her eyes as to her heart.

31 July to 23 August.

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