The kudos have been coming fast and furious over the past four years for playwright and actor Heather Raffo ‘98 (MFA). Her critically acclaimed one-woman show, Nine Parts of Desire, has been performed all over the world and has won a number of prestigious awards, including the 2005 Lucille Lortel Award for Best Solo Show, as well as a Susan Smith Blackburn Prize Special Commendation and the Marian Seldes-Garson Kanin Fellowship.
This weekend, she’ll add to that impressive list of accomplishments when she’s honored as the College of Arts and Sciences’ Author E. Hughes Career Achievement recipient at USD’s 2009 Alumni Honors gala, which takes place on Saturday, May 2, at the Jenny Craig Pavilion.
“I’ve kept updating the play over the last several years,” says Raffo. “So it can reference something very now, or serve as a wake-up call for just how little has changed in the last 10 years.”
Nine Parts of Desire tells the stories of nine Iraqi women; Raffo initially wrote the piece as part of her graduate thesis at USD. “I intended to write a piece about the Iraqi psyche,” she says on her Web site. “However, the play is equally about the American psyche. It is a dialogue between East and West.” In 2008, the piece was in the top 10 of the most produced plays nationwide.
Raffo is deeply connected to her roots, and felt compelled to visit her Iraqi-born father’s side of the family in 1993. “I just wanted to see the situation and see how they were,” she said in a 2004 interview with USD Magazine. “I just wanted to make the effort to go there and to love them.” Already living in London at the time, Raffo had been country-hopping and wound up in Turkey. “I thought, ‘Look. Iraq’s the next country over. I want to go. I want to see my family.”
Raffo will present a one-time concert and performance of the work on Sunday, May 3, at 2 p.m. Nine Parts of Desire in Concert: The Sounds of Desire will feature Raffo performing, with music by Amir El Saffar, an internationally known trumpeter, composer, singer and santoor player. “Essentially, it’s about half of the play with music, and is done at the microphone, like spoken word.” She came up with this adaptation in order to meet the needs of colleges and universities, which are among the most frequent parties staging the piece.
A gifted writer and communicator, Raffo is lyrical when she describes the work. “With rare exception, none of the stories are told verbatim,” she says of Nine Parts of Desire. “Although based in fact, I consider all the women in my play to be dramatized characters in a poetic story. I liken it to songwriting. I listened deeply to what each woman said, what she wanted to say but couldn’t, and what she never knew how to say. Then I wrote her song.”
— Julene Snyder
Nine Parts of Desire in Concert: The Sounds of Desire will be performed at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Theatre at 2 p.m. on May 3. Tickets are available at the University Center ticket office. Call (619) 260-2727.
Find the 2004 USD Magazine feature story about Raffo and her work online here.