9 parts of desire, part 2

Upon rereading, my review of 9 Parts of Desire may have been a little too positive. There are definitely problems with the play, especially in its relationship to its intended audience. I was initially impressed by what the play managed to do correctly and the versatility of the actress, but then the lacunae became more apparent.

Firstly, class is only tangentially dealt with in the play. Yes some of the 9 women are poor, but in Raffo’s scramble to give them strength and agency, she didn’t really address the relationship between them — which women enable the oppression of the others? What are the political forces that are relevant to them? It’s set up as a Baathist/Saddam versus American/Bush conflict, but that is a gross oversimplification, as the news points out. We’re given 9 snapshots of women but only the finest of threads stitching together their relationships to each other.

This is further complicated by the choice of these 9 snapshots. As I tried to argue with an acquaintance last night, someone will take issue with any finite number of images you take as “representative” of the spectrum of Iraqi women. Her complaint was that the choices were stereotypical — drunken expatriate, politically opportunistic artist, helpless 2nd generation immgrant. I think the more accurate criticism is that there weren’t very many complicated images, contradictions that couldn’t be fully explained by the text. To a degree, the women were textbook-logical. Even an irrationall impulse could be explained. It comes off a little pat, and thus non-representative.

Finally, there is the issue of catharsis. This play is playing in wealthy leftist Berkeley, and there is a real danger (and I’m sure it happened to many people) they they will go to see this play and feel like they have experienced the pain of these women and can now be cleansed of their guilt from complicity/ignorance/etc. I heard some paper called it an uplifting theatrical event, a feel-good play. It should have been more disturbing or challenging to avoid that. But you can’t control an audience’s reception that finely.

Was it worth seeing? I still think so. It’s standard practice to dislike all theater on some grounds, but my general feelings are positive, albeit shot through with some concerns. It’s too bad it closes today so nobody else gets to see it. But onward and upward, as they say.

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