For years, I’ve been arguing that director Lane Richins’ proper place is in the heart of Salt Lake City’s theater district. The consistently high artistic value of Richins’ productions—including The Turn of the Screw, Burn This and 2 Across—rivaled anything seen downtown, yet tucked away out there at Sugar Space, these often-brilliant plays were difficult for theater-goers to find. So it comes as something of a sweet, sweet victory that Seven—Richins’ downtown directorial debut—is such a resounding success.
Presented as a collection of intercut monologues, Seven tells the true stories of seven women facing dire circumstances, overcoming terrible adversities and advocating for social justice. The play contains powerful, often heavy, material: the struggles of Farida Azizi (Tamara Johnson-Howell), who sought to bring health care to Afghani women under Taliban rule; the heartbreaking saga of Mukhtar Mai (Toni Lugo), who survived an act of unspeakable cruelty in her native Pakistan.
Lugo’s performance is particularly remarkable in its seemingly effortless, matter-of-fact simplicity. A trained dancer, she uses body movements to evoke the vulnerability and great courage of the extraordinary woman upon whom the character is based.
U of U alum Kerry Lee (above) turns in a sensitive performance as Cambodian MP Mu Sochua, whose relentless campaign against sex trafficking earned her a 2005 nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Yet the darkness of the material is balanced by the luminosity of the production design. Seven simple, narrow scrims provide a surprising variety of lighting and silhouette effects. Costumes are basic black, with bolts of brightly contrasting fabric that serve as scarves, shawls, head coverings, landscapes and even—in one electrifying sequence—representations of the human soul during a Cambodian religious ritual.
Seven is gut-wrenching and inspiring, beautifully executed and tragic. The biggest tragedy, however, is that these stories still have to be told in this supposedly enlightened day and age.