The Honors College and the LSU Theater Department recently reserved an entire performance of Heather Raffo’s 2003 play, “9 Parts of Desire,” for Honors College students.
Set in Iraq, London and New York City, the award-winning play tells the tales of nine Iraqi women of various ages, professions, and backgrounds.
Seven graduate students in the M.F.A. Acting Program starred in the play, alternately telling their characters’ stories through their impassioned performances.
The fictionalized play represents an amalgamation of their stories and focuses on feminine strength in the midst of war-ravaged Iraq.
Dr. Granger Babcock, Associate Dean of the Honors College, said the play was chosen for Honors College Theatre Night because of its powerful themes.
“The play is really an investigation of individuals and their obligations to one another,” he said. “It fit in with the learning outcomes of Honors 2000, which focuses on the individual and the community.”
The script's time period is deliberately vague — past and present events are intermingled, creating a sense of timelessness and immediacy. One moment, a woman is describing the death of her family in a 1991 bombing; the next, another woman talks about the fall of Saddam Hussein.
“As a young lady of Middle Eastern descent, to get this script and to read all of it was so powerful,” said Jessica Jain, who played both the Doctor and Umm Ghada. “The first time I read it, I had to stop. It’s heartbreaking and empowering at the same time.”
The play’s title is derived from a quote attributed to an early imam: “God created sexual desire in ten parts; then he gave nine parts to women and one part to men.”
"I found that '9 parts' fit easily into the Honors College's effort to give us a worldly perspective on current issues facing society," said Victor Lashley, Honors College junior. "I've thoroughly enjoyed our college-wide examinations of other cultures, spanning back to reading 'The Complete Persepolis' in Honors 2000 my freshman year."
But while Raffo’s play seeks to help audiences gain a better understanding of current events through its depiction of Iraqi life, the play also points out the similarities between Middle Eastern and American culture.
"Our humanity started in this area of the world, the land between two rivers. We owe our human culture to these people," said Katrina Despain, who played the Iraqi Girl as well as Mullaya.
Despain, whose characters both feel a strong sense of kinship with Americans, said the events of the war deserve more attention from the public.
“I think our generation takes things for granted,” she said. “TV has numbed us to what’s happening. We can’t just ignore it anymore. It needs to be more real, and we need to gain gratitude.”
While the play places a strong emphasis on war and its effects on human beings, Despain said its message is ultimately one of love. In the final scene, all the characters come together and repeat one phrase over and over: "I love you."
“We wanted to finish on a strong note of solidarity,” said Hall. “I wanted to focus on the fact that these women survive. They have to keep going.”
Story by Elizabeth Clausen, LSU Honors College
For more information, contact the Honors College at 225-578-8831