DOCUMENTARY THEATRE: The war, through Iraqi women’s eyes
Cagefighting vs. Iraq
I’ll admit, I couldn’t tear myself away from World Extreme Cagefighting the other night — its tomato-pureed faces and broken bones — to watch a documentary on the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
(The doc, “No End in Sight,” a 2007 award winner, is slowing my Netflix flow down … to … a trickle.)
I know what you’re thinking. “What an emotional infant. Who chooses manufactured battles on Versus TV over insight into The Manufactured Occupation?”
Well, you and Michael Moore sound alike, because in his latest accusation (“Capitalism: A Love Story“) he basically said my preference for leg-lock, guillotine-choke entertainment proves the American empire is in its last gasps.
OK. I can accept that.
But before you add this to my “ruining civilization and running from Middle Eastern realities” tab, consider: Last Friday I had this amazing emotional connection to a play at 10th Avenue Theatre staged by Mo’olelo — “9 Parts of Desire,” a meditation on what it means to be an Iraqi woman now.
And, yes, I’d skip televised near-dismemberments to see this tale of torture, love, death and the Middle Eastern political landscape being shaped by Westerners, all told through monologues by nine Iraqi women.
Lovely monologue plays, character actresses
Give credit to the playwright, Heather Raffo, who originally performed all nine characters when “9 Parts” debuted in Scotland the year of the invasion.
At its best, “9 Parts of Desire” sheds light on an overlooked Iraqi diaspora through well-packaged flashes of monologue, just like the electric “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf.” And much like this year’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about the Congo (“Ruined“), Raffo bases her work on real, in-depth interviews with women tied emotionally or physically to a war zone. It’s “documentary theater.”
The desires in Raffo’s play parallel Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: food, safety, shelter, love, belonging, freedom, recognition. There’s a boho painter who refuses to leave her creative living in Baghdad; an exasperated doctor attending to radiation-exposed Basrans; a naive girl whose father disappeared under Saddam; a survivor of a U.S. attack on a bomb shelter; a pro-invasion exile in London; an old woman; a female mullah; an American whose family in Iraq is under fire; a big-hearted Bedouin anxious for love.
The roles are split between three actresses: Lisel Gorell-Getz, who so completely disappears into her painter/doctor/survivor roles that I cannot describe her; Dre Slaman, who plays her older characters more capably than the younger one; and my new favorite character actress, Frances Anita Rivera (above left).
Rivera, who isn’t Middle Eastern, plays the Bedouin woman. Cloaked in a black robe, her strong jaw, blue eyes and expressive hands are all we can see as she addresses the audience directly about loves won and lost. It doesn’t come off as a caricature; I didn’t feel tired or abused by her broken English monologue: “How he say this? … I am shamed to my family. They think he slept with me that night we meet in Dubai and change his mind. I don’t have peace.”
But when Rivera plays the American helplessly watching war developments on CNN, I was less interested in her performance. Something about that vignette seemed abstract, its rhythm forced.
Still, Rivera is the closest character actress to Anna Deveare Smith I’ve found locally. In “9 Parts” — her first show since a motorcycle accident interrupted her performance at Compass Theatre earlier this year — she is essential. And the production is striking.
And check out “Wishes/Umniat,” the Arab-American artwork on the floor above the theater