Cutchogue playwright’s ‘SEVEN’ to benefit local charities

Gail Kriegel

When Cutchogue playwright Gail Kriegel first met Anabella de Leon at Miami’s luxurious Biltmore Hotel around 2004, the Guatemalan congresswoman was flanked by four bodyguards and wearing impossibly high heels.

“She came in these high stilettos, perfectly balanced like she was born wearing them,” Ms. Kriegel recalled.

During the five-hour meeting that ensued, Ms. de Leon told Ms. Kriegel about her upbringing in Central America, where her family could only afford to eat one meal a day. She told Ms. Kriegel about the innumerable ways she had been oppressed as a woman in Guatemala, a country rife with corruption. And she told the playwright how she overcame those struggles to become a prominent government official known for being a champion of the poor — albeit one whose personal safety was so at risk she was granted special protection status from the Human Rights Commission.

Ms. de Leon’s story is featured in “SEVEN,” a documentary play about the lives of seven women from across the world that North Fork Reform Synagogue in Cutchogue will present later this month. All proceeds from the production’s two performances, which is directed by Ms. Kriegel and features a local cast, will be donated to North Fork Spanish Apostolate in Riverhead and CAST in Greenport.

“We wanted to do it as a benefit for two social justice organizations because it’s really consistent with our mission,” said Margo Lowry, program director at North Fork Reform Synagogue. “It’s consistent with everybody’s mission.”

Conceived by Carol Mack, “SEVEN” was written by seven women playwrights, including Ms. Kriegel. Since its 2008 debut, the play, which is presented in a series of monologues, has been performed across the globe and translated into 25 languages. It was first presented locally last year when Ms. Kriegel — a member of North Fork Reform Synagogue — suggested a local production be staged.

“Since our synagogue is very interested in social justice issues, it was right up our alley,” Ms. Lowry said.

The performance was so successful the synagogue decided to organize another production this year. But this time, organizers decided all ticket sales should benefit local charities whose missions are consistent with the play’s theme of overcoming adversity.

“I was very honored that we’d been selected,” said Sister Margaret Smyth, founder of North Fork Spanish Apostolate. “[The play] talks about people who have gone through difficult lives and how they came out of it. That relates totally to everything we do.”

Linda Ruland, executive director of CAST, said her organization was “very excited and grateful” to be one of the production’s benefactors.

“The money, of course, will be used to help our clients and provide food and services for them,” she said.

Ms. Lowry, who is also producing “SEVEN,” said donating the play’s proceeds is a charitable act that is in accordance with a Hebrew expression known as “Tikkun olam.” The Jewish concept, which translates to “world repair,” encourages people to do good works.

“As a reform synagogue, we feel that if we support these other groups and we put on programs for them, we can help other people relate to what’s going on around the world,” Ms. Lowry explained.

In addition to assisting the missions of local causes like CAST and North Fork Spanish Apostolate, Ms. Kriegel hopes “SEVEN” both informs audience members and spurs conversation.

“Maybe it will change one person, or inspire one person, about the world that women have all over the world,” she said.

Ms. Kriegel’s husband, attorney Barry Mallin, agreed.

“These are real women and these are women of real courage, which is very exciting and inspirational,” he said. “People always come away very excited and angry by what they listened to.”

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Photo: Cutchogue playwright Gail Kriegel at last week’s audition for ‘SEVEN,’ a documentary play she co-wrote and is directing. Performances will take place locally later this month. (Credit: Rachel Young)