- Courtesy Of Rich Rose
- Cast of SEVEN
In the era of #MeToo, one woman's story is never just about her. SEVEN, a documentary-style play about seven women who overcame sometimes brutal circumstances to fight injustice in their home countries, magnifies the effect of individual testimony. Each narrative, presented as a monologue, becomes part of a larger story that transcends time and geography.
SEVEN will come to Middlebury College's Wright Memorial Theater on March 3 and 4. Liza Sacheli, director of Middlebury's Mahaney Center for the Arts, said the performances were intentionally scheduled to coincide with the college's programming for International Women's Day, March 8 — a day of global awareness of the struggles and achievements of women throughout history.
Since the play's premiere at New York City's 92nd Street Y in 2008 — an event that drew celebrities including Christine Baranski and Kim Cattrall and was emceed by Diane von Furstenberg — SEVEN has been performed in 30 countries and translated into 27 languages.
The play was first conceived as a collaboration of Vital Voices, an international nonprofit focused on educating and empowering women as leaders, and playwrights Paula Cizmar, Catherine Filloux, Gail Kriegel, Carol K. Mack, Ruth Margraff, Anna Deavere Smith and Susan Yankowitz.
L.A. Theatre Works, a production company that specializes in audio theater, will stage the Middlebury performance. More than 50 U.S. public radio stations, in addition to the BBC, carry the company's weekly live broadcasts.
SEVEN unfolds as a series of interwoven monologues. Six of the seven women whose real stories became the basis of the play are still alive today — which, to some degree, collapses the distinction between life and art.
"It's a tricky thing for the actors to negotiate," said Sacheli. "They've had to do their homework and portray actual women, all of whom have had difficult and often traumatic lives."
In some way, each story is about the struggle for survival, against overwhelming personal and political odds, transformed into a vocation. One of the seven women, Mukhtar Mai, was gang raped in 2002 as a form of honor revenge, authorized by decree of a Pakistani village council. Mai fought her rapists in court, an unprecedented act in a culture in which raped women often commit suicide. Ultimately, her attackers were imprisoned. In the aftermath, Mai established schools for girls in Pakistan, founded a women's aid group in her village and wrote In the Name of Honor: A Memoir (2007).
Another of the women, Hafsat Abiola, is the daughter of the late Chief Moshood Abiola, who was elected president of Nigeria by democratic vote in 1993 and subsequently imprisoned after a military coup. In 1996, Hafsat's mother was assassinated during a protest demanding her husband's release. Abiola died in prison several years later. Hafsat, who graduated from Harvard the year her mother was killed, became an advocate for democracy and human rights; her nonprofit, the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy, provides leadership training to young women in Nigeria.
Cambodian human rights activist Mu Sochua was nominated for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize for fighting sex trafficking in Thailand and Cambodia; Marina Pisklakova-Parker founded the first hotline for victims of domestic violence in Russia in 1993, when most women in the country had nowhere to turn for support in abusive relationships.
Anabella De León, who overcame a childhood of poverty to win congressional office in Guatemala, has campaigned against government corruption and human rights violations, a stance that has earned her multiple death threats. Farida Azizi, an Afghani women's rights advocate, has led efforts to educate and support women under the Taliban regime. Her visibility made her a target for the Taliban, forcing her to seek asylum in the United States.
Inez McCormack, who died in 2013, was an Irish labor rights activist who became the first woman to attain leadership positions within Ireland's major union organizations. She fought for workplace parity for women and minorities; in 2006, she founded a nonprofit to help disadvantaged communities access resources and services.
In SEVEN, all of the actors remain onstage throughout most of the play, even when they aren't performing. That constant tableau invokes a sense of bearing witness, of a silent sisterhood: "Visually, it creates a powerful feeling of solidarity," said Sacheli.
The question of who gets institutional billing at Middlebury College has become fraught, particularly in light of the recent announcement that controversial social scientist Charles Murray will return to campus next month; the protests over his 2017 visit made national headlines. For Sacheli, SEVEN represents a multitude of critical perspectives.
"At Middlebury, we have increasingly felt that it's important to figure out whose voices we put on our stages, who we put on a pedestal," she said. "So, yes, I definitely sought out this play."