9 Parts of Desire, which tells the stories of different Iraqi women is disturbing and moving

Bombay-based Primetime Theatre Company’s latest production is a hard-hitting and uncompromising look behind the veil of Iraqi women. 9 Parts of Desire, is a solo performance by Ira Dubey and directed by her mother Lilette Dubey. Based on the play of the same name by Heather Raffo, it tells multiple stories connected by theme.

The nine women in the play come from different backgrounds and occupy the Iraq of the two Gulf wars. There’s the artist who questions the existence of freedom of expression, the doctor who everyday witnesses the horrors of deformed babies only to learn that she is pregnant, the American Iraqi who vicariously lives the war through her television set... The characters represent a unique cross section of society. Ira’s debut solo performance had the backing of a well-travelled and impactful script but it benefited no less from the young actor’s contribution to it.

Over the span of an hour, she singlehandedly retained the attention of an entire auditorium, handling both humour and pathos equally well. While her accent at times was excessive, she oscillated between dialects easily enough. Her roles as the oft-married Bedouin woman, a tour guide named Umm Ghada who guides visitors around the memorial where she lost her children and Saumra the eight-year-old who unwittingly contributed to her father’s demise were the best received, and for good reason. Well-crafted these were easily some of the best scripted characters in the play.

The sets were conventional, save for the one powerful scene where Umm Ghada points out the marks of death on the shelter’s walls and ceiling. The painting of the naked woman in the forest, the piece that inspired playwright Raffo, is also replicated in the artist’s residence. Attention to detail was also present in the sound, with the Big Ben’s chimes in the background for the scene with the elderly Iraqi lady in London.

The play, based on a non-fiction book by journalist Geraldine Brooks, is disturbing and moving. Personal narratives of love and life are intertwined with recent historical events in a deeply powerful manner. The recurring theme of freedom, whether of expression, being or love is doubly applicable to these women who are trying to survive war. As political as the context is, the play’s ideology is balanced. It’s a refreshing change from pro- and anti-political sentiments that have gripped the globe for the better half of the last decade.

9 Parts of Desire is the kind of theatre that stays with you long after the curtain falls.