For all the spectacle and visual hyper-realization of theater and films these days, the play SEVEN proves the real power to tell a story lies in outstanding writing — executed here by seven excellent playwrights.
SEVEN is a self-billed documentary play centered on human rights and the women who defend them. Seven actors tell seven stories through a series of intertwined monologues about how each character finds ways to overcome poverty, government corruption, domestic violence and human trafficking. The documentary element is significant, as the playwrights spent a year with human rights workers from around the world, and the play is based on interviews with them.
SEVEN features representations of specific human rights workers from various locations: Hasfa Abiola, from Nigeria; Anabella de Leon, from Guatamala; Mu Sochua, from Cambodia; Farida Azizi, from Afghanistan; Inez McCormack, from Ireland; and Muktar Mai, from Pakistan.
Each has a unique story: Azizi is an Afghan refugee in the early 1990s who, outraged at the violent propaganda given to schools in her refugee camp, published her own, more peaceful textbooks to give the children. And McCormack is a self-confessed hippie living in violent 1970s Northern Ireland who falls for a Catholic and ends up opening the first women’s center in a troubled area.
The mix of biographical and political writing doesn’t feel overtly pushed as with, for example, Eve Ansler’s The Vagina Monologues. And despite a grim and depressing picture drawn by the stories told, audiences leave the production feeling inspired and yearning to help. Director Lora Zane states that her work is “cultural activism,” and her intentions certainly aren’t wasted in SEVEN.
[Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Aurora Levins Morales was the director. Lora Zane directed the play. The Daily Trojan regrets the error.]
The words of the characters are the point of the play, and the direction takes hold of this philosophy by allowing only a minimal amount of theatricality. The SEVEN actors are all austerely dressed in black, and the group is beautifully choreographed to allow a sense of movement and poetry to aid the words. When one character details his or her personal story, the others stand in various positions or transform into other characters in that particular monologue, helping to paint a more visual picture of each story.
The set is bare apart from a large screen that hovers above the actors. Aside from a few technical sound glitches, the screen proves its worth, especially during a scene with Mai (Sohina Sidhu), whose haunting gaze stares out at the audience as the actor below gives a horrific monologue about being raped in a small village in Pakistan. Music is used sparingly and the lighting is often composed of just a few spotlights that follow the actors.
This minimalist design is not new or uncommon, but it’s appropriate for a play like SEVEN, in which the script is so powerful and poetic that anything more would be distracting.
Unfortunately, there are distracting elements: The decorative proscenium and largeness of Bovard Auditorium, in which the one-time performance was held, led to a lack of intimacy.
The performances, save one crooked accent, were spot on. In particular, the sometimes-humorous Marlene Forte (de Leon) and intriguing Jeanne Sakata (Sochua) gave powerfully solid performances.
Though Sidhu struggled at a few points, she still had a captivating stage presence. The same is true of Chastity Doston (Abiola), whose account of her mother’s assassination was heartbreaking. Both these women are theatre majors from USC and held their own against the more experienced actors in the show; they clearly have enough talent to do some more remarkable work in the future.
The end of SEVEN leaves the audience with an on-screen interview with one of the real-life women, Sochua, who gives a few profound words. It would have been great to show all the women SEVEN was based on in this way, as it would show the reality of what the audience had just witnessed onstage.
These figures exist in the real world, and the world needs to hear their stories to inspire new ones: As the character of Sochua says, “the war is never over.”
SEVEN focuses on a few remarkable women and does them justice; the show is a real testament to the idea that art can be the perfect platform to fight for social and political justice rather than just a medium solely for entertainment.