By Jeanine Russaw, Staff Writer
“Having something to say and being able to say it is what keeps you going.” This is how political activism actor/playwright Heather Raffo responded to an audience member during the discussion on her play: Heather Raffo’s 9 Parts of Desire. Performed by Heather Raffo herself, this one-woman show has run off Broadway nine months with the possibility of a revival in the near future. Interested in both the creative and political process behind her series of nonfiction speech patterns, the group of Hofstra students with various intended majors (including creative writing, political science, drama and journalism) eagerly participated. The play itself is a collection of monologues written in the voices of Iraqi women of all generations. There are nine women in total, hence the title of the play (in addition to a quote in another well-known book entitled Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks).
The chronicling of Ms. Raffo’s endeavors ever since she graduated from a New York masters acting program was quite inspiring. She began her career shortly thereafter, in 1998, mainly because there was no such thing as Arab-American theatre at the time. No Arab-American female characters where anywhere to be found in American theatre. Growing up half-Iraqi on her father’s side and not knowing how to speak the language, Raffo admits she struggled finding her place in society with respect to her ethnicity. However, while in college during the 1980’s, with CNN incessantly streaming footage of the war in Iraq, she knew what she needed to do.
She participates in the world of theatre simply because she enjoys tackling dangerous and controversial conversations in the completely safe environment that the art of theatre creates. For example, after just recently returning from a similar discussion in Malta, Raffo exclaimed her dissolution for the blatantly racist nation. They openly admitted the people’s denial of their Arab roots, as well as the terrible way they treated Africans. It was easy to get to the heart of these issues thanks in part to the openness of her direct presentations.
While she claims to engage in politically motivated theatre because of its relevance, it was by no means an easy feat. While she had finished her play in 200l and persistently looked for a place to get it up and running, most producers shied away, much too afraid after the terrorist attacks. Eventually, she found the break she was seeking, and the show was a hit. Fast-forward to the present where the University of Baghdad hired a big-name Iraqi actress to fill the role and New York theatres are scrambling to get the show running again. Somewhat irked and disappointed the cowardice of the American theatre, Raffo exclaimed “So now they want to bring in a bunch of Iraqis to come and see the show after we’ve decimated their f–king country?! New York wants to do this years later after they had the opportunity to do something about it?”
On the whole, aside from the phenomenal acting (when she switches from her character and speaks as herself, you are suddenly reminded you have been watching a performance), the performance emphasized the importance of having your voice heard.