By Dwight Hobbes
“One of the most intriguing things about this play is that it is truly documentary theater,” says actor Anna Wakefield of her participation in the Chain Reaction Theatre Project production Seven. “All of the text is taken verbatim from interviews with the women on whom the play is based. I am proud and honored that I will be able to help Chain Reaction Theatre Project introduce them to audiences around the Twin Cities metro area.
“[My] character, Mukhtar Mai, is a woman from rural Pakistan who was gang-raped by men from neighboring tribe of a higher caste. Unexpectedly, Mai reported the crime and with her settlement money, she opened several schools in rural Pakistan.”
To be sure, the Twin Cities, with its renown for awareness of women’s issues, is an excellent climate in which to share such a script. According to press materials, “In this inspirational and compelling play, the stories of seven courageous and diverse women are brought to life, [depicting] their tireless work to overcome enormous obstacles and to bring about major change in their individual home countries. In the seven interwoven stories, each woman bravely combats oppression, thus inspiring hope and reaffirming the belief that one person can indeed make a difference.”
It’s written by seven authors, most notable being veteran playwright-actor Anna Deveare Smith (Aye, Aye I’m Integrated, Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities). In short, Seven dramatizes the wide experience of females who’ve endured man’s inhumanity to woman.
Wakefield goes on to say, “More challenging than the physical aspects of this character is the emotional development. Mukhtar Mai was publicly gang-raped, and despite the cultural expectation that she commit suicide afterward, went on to open schools in rural Pakistan for young girls and boys so that they may have opportunities she was denied.
“That is such a display of strength and unselfishness! Though we are still in the rehearsal process, I am hoping to find ways to give life to her words, to help people understand just how brave, how strong, a woman Mukhtar Mai really is while still maintaining the vulnerability demanded by some of the more traumatic elements of her story.”
She adds, “This is a woman who never had attended school herself. She could not read or write, nor could anyone in her village. This play is so fabulous because Mukhtar Mai’s story, and the stories of the other tremendously brave women, are travelling and being heard all over the world. Before I started working on this play, I had limited knowledge of only a few of these women.”
Accordingly, Wakefield had to do her homework, she acknowledges. When asked what preparation went into her approach to performing the role, she answers, “Mukhtar Mai’s story is known throughout the world, so there is certainly no shortage of information about her. So, watching interviews and reading news stories about this incredible woman has been a large part of my preliminary preparation.
“However, she does not speak English in any of the interviews and the text in this show is delivered in English, so finding her voice in this play has been a bit of a project. Speaking with a generic Pakistani accent is not enough. I must search for her voice.”
A graduate of Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, Wakefield credits include Ntozake Shange’s timeless classic For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf (University of Minnesota), Adrift on the Mississippi (History Theater), Toothsome Alley (People’s Center) and Change Agent (MN Fringe Festival). Her enthused commitment to acting in Seven is quite understandable considering that Wakefield presently is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Minnesota with a major in Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies and a minor in African American/African Studies. She is, the playbill notes attest, “elated to be working on Seven…with Chain Reaction Theatre Project.”
To write this timely, thought-proving drama, along with the pen of Anna Deveare Smith, Paula Cizmar, Catherine Filloux, Gail Kriegel, Carol K. Mack, Ruth Margraff, and Susan Yankowitz contributed to the script.
Directed by Shelley Smith, Seven runs March 8-25 at different locations in the Twin Cities metro area. It is presented by Chain Reaction Theatre Project in partnership with the nonprofit organizations Cornerstone, Sexual Violence Center, Las Mujeres de la Palabra, Zoom House and La Amistad. Suggested donation is $15.
For more information and a detailed list of times and places for showings, go to www.chainreac tiontp.com.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.