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Nine Iraqi Women

When we hear reports of the war in Iraq we rarely hear how it impacts Iraqi civilians on a day-to-day basis — let alone how it affects women in particular. Nine Parts of Desire, a one-woman play that weaves together the experiences of nine different Iraqi women, aims to redress that.

The play was written by Heather Raffo, whose father is from Iraq and who grew up in the midwest. She visited Iraq for the first time in 1993 and spent the next 11 years interviewing women and learning about their culture and experiences.

Raffo’s U.S. premiere of Nine Parts of Desire won critical acclaim in 2004 (The New Yorker called it “an example of how art can remake the world”). She subsequently took the show to some major U.S. cities. And now there’s a local production at Portland’s Coho Theater — with Best Actress Drammy Award-winning Luisa Sermol singing, dancing, whispering, and praying her way through all nine parts.

Through Sermol, Nine Parts of Desire introduces the audience to a wealth of characters: a Bedouin woman who has her heart broken for the first time after two failed marriages; a teenage girl who dances to Western pop music; an artist who curated the Saddam Hussein’s art center; a doctor sickened by the birth defects she faces every day, and more.

These women bring up many questions. Most significantly, for the purpose of this conversation: how are Iraqi civilians, especially women, portrayed in Western culture? Do you feel like you have a good understanding of how people in Iraq live? What they eat? What music they listen to? How they socialize? Does Western media do a good enough job telling us stories from Iraq?


  • Heather Raffo: Playwright, Nine Parts of Desire
  • Louanne Moldovan: Founder and artistic director of Cygnet Productions and director of the Portland production of Nine Parts of Desire
  • Luisa Sermol: Actress performing the one-woman play, Nine Parts of Desire at Coho Theater in Portland
iraq theater women

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