Review: 9 Parts of Desire – Seventh Stage Theatre

By Ryan Kerr

Seventh Stage Theatre‘s limited run of 9 Parts of Desire deserves a remount.

Seventh Stage Production’s 9 Parts of Desire wove together the stories of nine modern Iraqi women in a beautifully designed, compelling production.
The play ran 70 minutes with no intermission – steadily building tension and urgency. Each character shared an elegant and thoughtful vignette describing their relationship to the culture, landscape, and memory of their country.
It was at once joyful and heartbreaking, tinged with desperate political fervor. I felt like I was hearing stories rarely told, of a place changing so dramatically without anyone to preserve its crumbling history. Even the character of Mullaya in her opening monologue admits jokingly admits: “Iraqis never open their mouths – even for a dentist!”
What incredible responsibility these actors must have felt in conveying this message of secret thoughts, ambitions, and desires of nine compelling characters.

The Theatre Centre’s rustic atmosphere lent itself perfectly to the spare decoration of 9 Parts of Desire. Over the main floor of the stage were hung four painted canvas sails which evoked Baghdad’s battered stone walls. A bolt of dappled blue fabric draped diagonally across the floor to mimic a river, and an artist’s easel and canvas accompanied a handful of makeshift brick stoops.  Above the stage, the balcony was set with a wooden chair and small wooden table. In both elevation and choice of furniture, the implication of higher class over the modest main floor was glaring. All were so dimly lit at times that I had to strain my eyes to see the nuance in the actors’ faces, as if their stories, as well as their individual expressions, were fading into oblivion.
It was in this clever use of light and space that director Kelly Straughan so successfully created each character’s relationship with their notion of place and belonging. As the turn passed from one woman to the next, it was the subtly of the lighting and perfect, natural staging which convinced us every time of the reality of the devastation, pride, and celebration she was immersed in.  The characters remained on stage after their monologues were finished. During the monologue of ghostly Umm Ghada, the four previous actors took their places behind each of their fabric ‘walls’ and were lit as silhouettes to the description of a civic tragedy leaving innocents dead.
The character of Huda, having moved to London, reflected from her posh balcony periodically on what her life was like before her move. Her world was wrought with different challenges than those characters remaining in Iraq, on the ‘ground’.
A turning point in 9 Parts of Desire came with the clever introduction of a character referred to only as “American”. She appears halfway through the show seated at the rear of the audience. She represents the position of a first generation metropolitan girl – one whose life of privilege doesn’t negate her strong familial ties to Iraq.  She also represents the rest of us in the audience, who are participating in a conflict between a war-torn society and one of incredible peace: “In New York, people work out to the War on three channels.”
Following 9 Parts of Desire, I turned to my date and asked her what she thought of the show. We compared our lives to the horrors described by those nine skilled actors and admitted that we were affected.  Without intending to, we launched into a stirring discussion on the nature of our own particular privilege to be attending a fully produced, elegant piece of theatre on a sunny afternoon in peaceful Toronto.

We feel a stronger responsibility to listen to disappearing stories, to challenge each other to keep informed of issues that disturb us, and to support a theatre company which selects challenging works and produces them flawlessly.

9 Parts of Desire had a very short run this time around and closed on May 23, so, unfortunately you can’t check out this specific production. Keep your eyes open for a remount, it’s certainly worth seeing.

Cast Photo by Michelle Bailey