sell outs

October 30, 2009

9 Parts of Desire  is SOLD OUT tonight, Friday, Oct 30, and Sunday, Nov 1. There are only 48 tickets remaining for the run on Saturday, Oct 31 at 7:30 PM. Available at or 619-342-7395.


last week of the run!

October 26, 2009

There are only FIVE performances remaining of 9 PARTS OF DESIRE… and TWO of those are already SOLD OUT!

We have tickets available for:

Thursday, Oct 29 at 7:30 PM (Post show discussion)
Friday, Oct 30 at 7:30 PM
Saturday, Oct 31 at 7:30 PM

Order your tickets at or 619-342-7395.

Pat Launer’s review!

October 15, 2009


THE SHOW: Nine Parts of Desire,” a drama set in Iraq, at Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company

Five months ago, Heather Raffo returned to her alma mater, the University of San Diego, to receive the 2009 Author E. Hughes Career Achievement Award from the College of Arts and Sciences. While she was there, she performed excerpts from her stunning play, “Nine Parts of Desire,” which she began writing while she was at USD (1996-1998), pursuing her MFA. In 1993, she had traveled to Iraq, the land of her father, where she spent part of her youth. She met, ate with and lived with many Iraqis, and over the course of a decade, distilled the stories down to nine women who touched and moved her, whom she couldn’t forget. Using only an abaya, a traditional Iraqi black, robe-like garment, she inhabited the various characters just by changing the way she draped or wore the cloth. It was a stirring, affecting performance, one for which she garnered acclaim in London and New York where,  in 2004, she won a Lucille Lortel Award for Best Solo Show and the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize Special Commendation. Career Achievement, indeed.

The play is an ideal match for Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company, which specializes in telling the stories of those whose voices are rarely heard. The mission of the vagabond group (last year in residence at the La Jolla Playhouse), focuses on speaking for varied and under-served communities and bringing new groups to the theater. Instead of presenting the play as a solo show, they’ve expanded it to three actors, each playing three roles. And they do something Raffo herself couldn’t manage, in spite of her prodigious talent. The women interact, they support each other, they sometimes echo each other’s words. Under the expert, delicate and meticulous direction of Janet Hayatshahi, they waft in and out of these heart-rending stories, passing one abaya among them, wearing it guardedly or carelessly, over the face or off the shoulder, as chador or as painting smock. Beneath it, they’re dressed in modern Western clothes, showing us that they’re really just like us, only in extremis.

They are all survivors, women of profound courage and strength, who share a great deal: guilt for the fortitude and good fortune that has kept them alive, grief for those they’ve lost and a deep and abiding love of their country. The play’s title refers not only to the number of women. It’s borrowed from a non-fiction book by Australian reporter Geraldine Brooks, who in turn quotes from Iman Ali in the Koran: “God made desire in ten parts and gave nine to women.” The proverb is often used as justification for cloistering and covering Islamic women. For Raffo, it’s an allusion to the earthiness and frank sexuality of the women who captivated her. But their most fervent desire may be for their lives to return to a semblance of normality, to a place of peace, where they can live openly, vibrantly, unencumbered by laws, rules, subjugation and heavy cloth.

The most colorful character is Layal, based on the artist Layla Al-Attar, who became curator of the Saddam Art Center (painting innumerable portraits of the leader) by placating the regime, offering her body to anyone who would help her stay alive. But Layla/Layal, a forceful, free-spirited woman, also made very subversive pictures, displayed in the upper floors of the Center – risky paintings, of nude women, that surreptitiously denounce the regime. She was only successful up to a point, killed in a U.S. missile attack in 1993. Also memorable is Amal, the lusty Bedouin, who has left two husbands and, still filled with hope, pursues a third, only to be devastated when he abandons her.

The actors speak in varied accents (coached by the Old Globe’s dialect-maven, Jan Gist) and move deftly through the evocative set (David F. Weiner), a snakelike array of water vessels and bowls, symbolizing both the daily tasks of a woman and the all-important River Euphrates. The background is a wall of blue-green Moorish architecture, the floors strewn with pillows. And there’s one tree, an important image in the art-work of Layal.

That unforgettable character is marvelously inhabited by Lisel Gorell-Getz, who underscores the character’s unshakable lust for life. She also does wonderful work as the doctor who only delivers deformed and diseased babies, due to the various contaminants left behind by the war; and Umm Ghada, sole survivor of the Amirya shelter where 400 people died, including her nine children, after an American, Gulf War bombing. Now she offers ghoulishly dispassionate tours of the place, and she asks us to sign the guestbook, too. They all speak to us directly, as if we’re their interviewers, or friends – or their eyewitnesses.

Dré Slaman is excellent as a wide-eyed 8-year-old girl who misses her father, realizing too late that her youthful, casual remark may have been responsible for his kidnapping and death.  Slaman also makes a strong statement as Mullaya, the professional mourner and Huda, the whiskey-drinking exile who feels she should have been in Baghdad during the worst of it.

Frances Anita Rivera is powerful as the beggarwoman, Nanna; as Amal, the Bedouin; and as the Iraqi-American (based, presumably, on Raffo herself), fingering her rosaries as she compulsively recites the names of the relatives in Iraq whom she’s unable to contact, hoping they’re still alive. At the end, all the women join in the litany of names. And then, in a rising chorus, they repeat the only words an Iraqi relative knows in English, “I love you,” until it crescendos into a prayer, a plea for recognition, not only from the relatives, but from the world.

THE LOCATION: Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company at the 10th Avenue Theatre, 930 10TH Ave. (619) 342-7395.

THE DETAILS: Tickets: $22-$27.  Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m., through November 1.


Read more:

Keli Dailey’s review!

October 15, 2009

DOCUMENTARY THEATRE: The war, through Iraqi women’s eyes

9parts-7.jpgCagefighting 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.

frances-rivera-9parts.jpgLovely 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

From the North County Times:

THEATER REVIEW: Voices of Iraqi women ring out in well-staged ‘Desire’
ANNE MARIE WELSH – For the North County Times | Posted: Wednesday, October 14, 2009 8:55 am

Impassioned or world-weary, naive or cynical, young or old, the nine Iraqi women of Heather Raffo’s “9 Parts of Desire” are survivors, as well as potent reminders of the psychic costs of war and brutal dictatorships.

Mo’olelo Performing Arts’ often heart-stopping production of the 2004 play brings these nine suffering, yet enduring women to vivid individual life. Though there was too much superfluous movement early on and the occasional muddle of voices on opening night, at its best, director Janet Hayatashi’s production is Mo’olelo’s most powerful since “Remains,” the company’s debut offering written by company founder Seema Sueko.

Playwright Raffo, a Catholic Iraqi-American, first visited family in Iraq in 1993. She began interviewing real women and imagining others while she was still a student in the master of fine arts program jointly offered by the University of San Diego and the Old Globe. Her many years of research and writing led her to create neither a theatrical documentary nor a piece of political propaganda.

Instead, she wrote a one-woman play in which these unexpectedly varied voices speak to us in monologues, but also to one another in counterpoint and echo, as if layer upon layer of the hidden lives of everyday Iraqis were being stripped bare. Each voice is different, distinctive; together they reveal the tortured history of a multifaceted culture in crisis.

Initially, Raffo played all the roles herself, a tour de force that won performance and playwriting awards for her all over the world. At Mo’olelo, Hayatashi cast three women, dividing the nine roles among them.

Actor Frances Anita Rivera, new to San Diego, plays a full-bodied Bedouin woman, Amal, as well as the Raffo-based blond American desperate to connect to her extended family in Baghdad. And what a local debut Rivera makes. In both parts, she radiates warmth and vitality, but especially as Amal. A cheery fat woman looking the world over for love, Rivera’s oft-married, often-disappointed Amal has so much spontaneity and life, her spirit spills over into the audience.

As the American, clutching a rosary and reciting the names of her cousins unreachable since the American invasion, Rivera embodies the heartbreak of loving families frayed by emigration and war. And Rivera also roams convincingly about as a Mother Courage-like war profiteer, a stooped, iconic figure in black robes jauntily selling stolen goods to survive.

Actor Dre Slaman proves just as riveting in her role as Huda, a sophisticated Scotch-sipping, intellectual exile in London. Huda’s spine-chilling tales of Saddam Hussein’s brutality make their own case for removing him and the “animals” he created. An inveterate protester and world traveler, Huda has never forgotten the screams of a baby tossed into a sack of hungry cats, its mother raped by Saddam’s stooges, all to torture the child’s father in a nearby cell.

Slaman has a solidity and earthiness on stage that colors even her portrayal of a girl whose school essay about the stars quite by accident implicates her father, who soon disappears. The child loves ‘N Sync, wants to meet Justin Timberlake, yet knows the difference between an M-16 and a Kalashnikov, and the name of every falling bomb and missile by its sound.

The most surprising character is Layal, a famous self-infatuated Iraqi painter who collaborated with the regime, ran the Saddam Art Center, and thus was able to paint famous nudes and portraits — she tells us — like one of a kidnapped woman, covered with honey by her torturers and set upon by Dobermans.

Lisel Gorell-Getz plays this demanding role of a contradictory, self-justifying artist with passion and panache. Her portrayal, still spotty on opening night, will no doubt smooth itself over the course of the three-week run. Best showcased before this in deftly comic parts, Gorell-Getz also morphs into a bereft mother who has turned the Al-Amaria bomb shelter into a museum of death where American bombs from the first Gulf War incinerated her family.

David Weiner created the set, its clutter perhaps meant to suggest the fragmentation of Iraqi culture. The playing space is cut by the Tigris as a river of shoes. Ladders, empty picture frames, and doorways conjure various sites mentioned in the monologues, though this is one play in which the writing itself is so detailed, strong and evocative the production could well play on a bare stage with a minimum of movement.

Media and government attention have shifted to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where it perhaps should have been after the terrorist attacks eight years ago. Yet “9 Parts of Desire” feels even more significant now as a lasting work of art wrested from the damage wrought by Saddam Hussein’s regime and America’s injudicious responses to it.

“9 Parts of Desire”

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and Oct. 22-24 and 30-31; 2 p.m. Sunday and Oct. 25 and Nov. 1

Where: Mo’olelo at 10th Avenue Theatre, 930 10th Ave., San Diego

Tickets: $15-$18

Info: 619-342-7395


Baghdad Theatre

October 14, 2009

Found this article on Thought our blog readers and audiences of 9 Parts of Desire might enjoy reading it:

After six years, Baghdad’s theatre opens its doors again

As the lights dimmed and the Iraq National Theatre’s curtain rose to a wave of applause, six men in garish white suits and three rather more soberly dressed women started to dance and sing a love song.

Read the rest here.

Janice Steinberg’s review!

October 13, 2009

From the San Diego Union Tribune:

Theater review

3 women play 9 who love, desire amid Iraqi war, loss


By Janice Steinberg

2:00 a.m. October 13, 2009


“9 Parts of Desire”

Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Nov. 1

Where: Mo’olelo at The 10th Avenue Theatre

Tickets: $22-$35

Phone: (619) 342-7395


Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company’s lyrical production of “9 Parts of Desire” weaves its spell from the moment you enter the 10th Avenue Theatre. Scenic designer David F. Weiner has created a Moorish-arched bazaar in which several dozen metal bowls, gleaming on two low platforms, illuminate the simple beauty in everyday kitchen ware.

In the same way, the nine Iraqi women whose voices are heard in Heather Raffo’s play reveal the poetry in their everyday lives — and the determination to persevere in the midst of war and loss.

Raffo, an American actor-playwright whose father was born in Iraq, initially interviewed women in Iraq in the 1990s and used that material in a short play for the University of San Diego/Old Globe MFA program.

That piece evolved into the one-woman “9 Parts of Desire,” which she debuted in Edinburgh in 2003 and later performed in London and New York, receiving a Susan Smith Blackburn Prize Special Commendation and a Lucille Lortel Award for Best Solo Show.

In Mo’olelo’s production, which opened on Saturday at the 10th Avenue Theatre, three actors play the nine roles. Under Janet Hayatshahi’s sensitive direction, the women become one another’s witnesses and allies, sometimes playfully and sometimes tenderly handing off the black abaya whose wearer (or holder) takes center stage.

The play’s title (also used by author Geraldine Brooks for her book about women in the Muslim world) quotes from a seventh-century imam: “God created sexual desire in 10 parts. He gave nine parts to women, one to man.”

Certainly, some of the women — whom Raffo has said she quoted nearly verbatim — express exuberant sexual desire. Layal, the worldly painter who wears the abaya off her shoulders like an evening wrap, declares herself “hungry for (love) every morning like I have never eaten before,” and the chatty Bedouin, Amal, hopes for husband number three.

But love isn’t the only thing these women want. An eight-year-old girl, kept home because of the conflict, yearns for an education. A Basra doctor wants to deliver healthy babies; instead, contaminants released by the war are producing newborns who are horribly deformed. An Iraqi-American woman, seemingly a stand-in for Raffo, says the rosary using the names of all her family members in Iraq.

As the personal inevitably entwines with the politics of war, the stories get grimmer. Umm Ghada offers a tour of the bomb shelter, hit by U.S. bombs in the Gulf War, where her family died. Nanna approaches strangers on the street, trying to sell things “from good family” so that she can eat.

Yet the play ultimately celebrates the women’s life-force and the power of art, in the hands of Hayatshahi and a fine ensemble cast.

Lisel Gorell-Getz gives the show’s standout performance as Layal, daring, brittle and almost successful at hiding her fear behind bravado. Gorell-Getz also plays the doctor and Umm Ghada.

Dré Slaman shifts from the big-eyed liveliness of the young girl, to a Scotch-drinking former Communist living in exile in London, to a professional mourner.

Poignant in her role as Nanna, Frances Anita Rivera on opening night was ardent but a bit over-caffeinated as Amal and the American.

Using three actors has led to a few changes in Raffo’s script, with mixed results. It’s jarring when an actor echoes a line spoken by the featured character. On the other hand, a gripping moment occurs when the American repeats “I love you” like a mantra to keep everyone from harm, and the other women join in.

Among the excellent production team, dialect coach Jan Gist deserves special mention. Rather than speaking generic Iraqi-accented English, each character’s speech is fine-tuned to reflect her education and background. At least to this ear, they sounded convincing — and drew us into the vital stories the women had to tell.


Here’s the current ticket availability as of 3:35 PM on 10/28:

Oct 8, 7:30 PM – 7 tix available
Oct 9, 7:30 PM – SOLD OUT
Oct 10, 7:30 PM – SOLD OUT
Oct 11, 2 PM – 27 tix available
Oct 14, 2 PM – SOLD OUT
Oct 15, 7:30 PM – 49 tix available
Oct 16, 7:30 PM – SOLD OUT
Oct 17, 7:30 PM – SOLD OUT
Oct 18, 2 PM – SOLD OUT (post show discussion)
Oct 21, 10 AM – SOLD OUT
Oct 22, 7:30 PM – SOLD OUT(post show discussion)
Oct 23, 7:30 PM – SOLD OUT
Oct 24, 7:30 PM- SOLD OUT
Oct 25, 2 PM – 52 tix available
Oct 28 10 AM – SOLD OUT
Oct 29, 7:30 PM – SOLD OUT (post show discussion)
Oct 30, 7:30 PM –SOLD OUT
Oct 31, 7:30 PM – 54 tix available
Nov 1, 2 PM – SOLD OUT

If your top choice is sold out, please know that we welcome standbys. Should we have any no-shows, we’ll do everything we can to get you in. Standbys should plan on arriving at the theater 30-45 minutes prior to the performance to get on a standby list.

 To order your tickets or for more information visit or call 619-342-7395.

Don Braunagel’s Review!

October 12, 2009

San Diego Arts

“9 Parts of Desire” by Mo’olelo

Surviving Iraqi devastation
By Don Braunagel
Posted on Sun, Oct 11th, 2009
Last updated Mon, Oct 12th, 2009


The title of this play by Heather Raffo comes from a proverb in the Koran: “God created sexual desire in 10 parts; then he gave nine parts to women and one part to men.” But sexual desire comprises only a minuscule part of this wrenching work, a mosaic of experiences of women terribly affected by the wars in Iraq.

Raffo, an American with an Iraqi father, wrote this play after years of interviewing Iraqi women. It was first produced in 2003, during the early stages of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and mostly concerned the 1990-91 Gulf War. Since then, Raffo has updated it to include newer atrocities, like the torturing at Abu Ghraib.

But “9 Parts” is not meant to be anti-American. It’s certainly anti-war, but mainly it’s a portrait of women and the protective methods they develop to survive amid desperation and devastation. Nine of them — composites of Raffo interviewees — get vividly personified by Lisel Gorell-Getz, Frances Anita Rivera and Dré Slaman.


 (L to R) Gorrell-Getz, Rivera, Slaman Photo by Nick Abadilla

 Most prominent is Layal, an artist (based on actual painter Layla Attar), who refuses to leave Iraq despite the bombing all around her. She has attained favored status in the Saddam Hussein regime, partly because she paints nudes but also because she has no qualms about surrendering her body. (“I’ve been raped many times, and I want more.”) She also saw the consequences of offending the powerful: A friend was brutalized by Uday Hussein, then made the mistake of telling about it. She was recaptured, covered with honey and devoured by Dobermans.

Such atrocities, like Saddam’s massacre of thousands of his countrymen, are cited by another character, who’s previously been a pacifist but fully supports the overthrow of Saddam. Yet the resultant wars bring their own horrors. A Basra doctor, who says her hospital was the best in the Middle East, cites the vast increase in burn victims and genetic disorders. And another Basra resident shows the outline of a vaporized woman at the site where her whole family, along with hundreds of others, was wiped out by a U.S. “smart bomb.”

Even the lighter moments get tinged with sadness. A young Iraqi, who gushes over ‘N Sync and Justin Timberlake, also knows the make of U.S. tank that demolished much of her home. And she and her friends collect the different types of bullets and guns. A New Yorker with parents in Iraq watches the bombing on TV (lamenting that Americans “work out to the war”) and waits anxiously for word of her relatives’ safety.

One old woman goes to the river and soaks shoes, with the ironic pun that she’s saving “worn soles.” Another, who says she’s lived through 20 revolutions, seeks to survive by peddling anything, including what she says is a nude painting of herself by Layal.

The overall picture is heartbreaking, yet in the end, there’s a glimmer of optimism. Despite calamitous conditions, these women, in various ways, have learned to survive. And this cast, with credit to dialect coach Jan Gist, delivers that message sublimely, particularly Gorrell-Getz as Layal and Rivera, deftly switching from young to old. Director Janet Hayatshahi smoothes the transitions among the characters, and uses (or, in one instance, overuses) repetitions of dialog for emphasis.

David F. Weiner’s set, with Middle Eastern backdrops, features corner clusters of props necessary for each woman’s story. Running through them is the representation of a river filled with varied vessels, containers that also resemble a historical collection of Iraqi bowls. Alongside that river rest all types of shoes, sadly symbolizing all the people lost to war.

Jason Bieber’s lighting is almost like another character as it spotlights, underscores and teams with Paul Peterson’s subtle-to-vivid sound design to dramatize the terrible power of explosives. Charlotte Devaux’s simple but evocative costumes, particularly the familiar shrouding black robe, effectively define each character.

opening night photos

October 11, 2009

We opened Heather Raffo’s 9 Parts of Desire tonight!

The Tenth Avenue Theatre

The Tenth Avenue Theatre


The crowd

The crowd


The Excellent Bartenders Sylvia and Mike

The Excellent Bartenders Sylvia and Mike


The Happy Cast

The Happy Cast


The Director Janet Hayatshahi with Actor Lisel Gorell- Getz

The Director Janet Hayatshahi with Actor Lisel Gorell- Getz