When a fellow mother at her son’s school arrived with a bruised face, Marina Pisklakova-Parker didn’t stay quiet. It was 1993 in Russia, and domestic violence was common, but there wasn’t even a word in the vernacular to describe it. In the face of threats from abusers and law enforcement that was hesitant to act, she took on a fight no one else would.
Pisklakova-Parker founded Russia’s first domestic violence hotline.
“Pretty soon, she found herself working in a closet with a telephone,” playwright Paula Cizmar said. “She was the one person willing to pick up the phone and listen.”
Pisklakova-Parker’s story is just one of the moving narratives featured in “Seven” — a play written by seven women playwrights, each telling the story of one inspiring woman. Since its premiere in 2008, the work has been translated into 27 languages and performed in over 30 countries.
The documentary-style play was conceived by playwright Carol K. Mack, who collaborated on the script with playwrights Cizmar, Anna Deavere Smith, Catherine Filloux, Gail Kriegel, Ruth Margraff and Susan Yankowitz.
“Seven” will make a pit stop at the O’Shaughnessy at St. Catherine University on March 16. The play is being presented as part of the O’Shaughnessy’s “Women of Substance” series, an initiative to amplify women’s voices through art.
The California-based company L.A. Theater Works kicked off a national tour of the play in October 2019 and will visit venues across the country in 2020. The O’Shaughnessy performance is just one on a small tour of Minnesota, which will conclude March 19 at the Historic Holmes Theatre in Detroit Lakes.
Using the words of real women who have faced adversity and made the choice to persevere, “Seven” tackles subjects like sex trafficking, lack of access to education, equal rights for women workers, persecution and violence against women.
“Despite these women’s stories coming from all different parts of the world, there’s this through-line,” production director Alexis Jacknow said. “The truth is that we all want the same things — to have equal rights, to be educated, to be free, to be respected. I think you can really hear that in each woman’s story.”
The L.A. Theater Works production of “Seven” is especially compelling because it’s an interwoven collection of monologues, Jacknow said. Each actor delivers a roughly 20-minute monologue directly to the audience, supplemented by sound effects and imagery on a screen behind the actors.
“There’s something to be said about simplifying it to a microphone. It becomes about just listening to the actors,” said Lovlee Carroll, who plays Mukhtar Mai. Mai, a survivor of gang rape, has become one of the loudest voices promoting education reform in her native Pakistan.
“I think what’s effective about this particular piece, and that you see seven different narratives being portrayed, is that you begin to see that these women from all over the world have the same struggles and are fighting the same fight,” said Tess Lina, who portrays Mu Sochua, Cambodia’s former minister of women’s affairs, who has worked against sex trafficking in Cambodia and Thailand.
Paul Organisak, the O’Shaughnessy’s executive director, said “Seven” is a natural fit for the “Women of Substance” series.
“It’s an amazing, ongoing series that has been a highlight of the O’Shaughnessy’s presenting year since 1996. Its goal is to present the voices of women through the arts — women who are changing and influencing the world,” he said.
Though “Seven” was written in 2008, its message is still just as powerful in 2020.
“This play could be written about seven different women every year and it would be equally as effective,” Lina said.
At its core, “Seven” demonstrates that women anywhere in the world — whether in Russia, Pakistan, Cambodia, Nigeria, Ireland, Afghanistan or Guatemala — can leave a profound impact on their communities and beyond.
Liv Martin (email@example.com) is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.