“I have 70 family members still in Baghdad,” says the actor-playwright Heather Raffo. “My life and their lives are—” and with that she spreads her arms wide. It’s not the physical distance so much as the fact that Raffo feels American, is American. She grew up in Michigan with an Iraqi father and an American mother. And while her hair is blond, her home New York, and her Arabic terrible, in 2003, the 30-something became a leading Arab American voice with her one-woman play, 9 Parts of Desire, based loosely on interviews gathered on two trips to Baghdad. The play (and Raffo, its star) landed on must-see lists in London and New York, so it’s a coup that Next Theatre in Evanston has scored a joint Midwest premiere with the Museum of Contemporary Art (at the MCA; mcachicago.org), for three weeks starting May 3rd. The show, which debuted in 2003 in Edinburgh, has taken its time to wind its way to the Midwest, but it has not grown stale, Raffo says; regrettably, she has been forced to revisit the script as sectarian violence continues to plague her father’s homeland.
Photograph: Irene Young