The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls
By Roz Friedman
I do not speak or understand Russian, but the playwright Meg Miroshnik has taught me a new phrase: “ZHYLI BYLI.” Translated it means, “They lived, they were.” This phrase is used in her crimson red, raging play, The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls; I must say that for one hour and 40 minutes without intermission I was fascinated by the characters of this action-packed piece, a modern take on old-fashioned tales set in Moscow, 2005 in the Thrice-Nine Tsardom in the Thrice-Ten Country. Grimm, Anderson, and Carl Jung would be thrilled with the playwright's take on these familiar stories of children fleeing to the forest, being attacked and kidnapped by a bear, women in bondage, friends aiding each other in times of stress, and an oven readied for cooking the bones of juicy humans.
Interspersed with the fanciful stories and rough language is dialogue in Russian and spurts of Russian rock music. This is not a traditional form, but interesting. Directed with smooth speed by Rachel Chavkin, who has won kudos for her work on the epic Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, the all female cast is dramatic and full of energy. Jessica Jelliffe is a marvelous Olga, who has emigrated to America; she explains to her daughter, sweet Annie, a fine Emily Walton, why she must wear her old, huge, ratty fur coat on her visit to Moscow during the summer.
“ HHHoney, you haf to understand, literally in the Soviet Union -KGB turns sun on only one hour each day-zey had switch. One coat needed last you whole life-Pregancy, fattening up-becoming old stooping woman....”
Annie stays in the country home of her mother's friend, Auntie Yaroslava, the frightening Felicity Jones. There she meets Masha (Sofiya Akilova,) held captive by a bear, Katya ( Celeste Arias), and Other Katya, Nastya (Stephanie Hayes), all of them fighting for their lives. Christopher Ash and Bradley King have created set and lighting- the lighting for the music sections is painfully over the top. The fire in the oven is spectacular. KJ Kim's costumes are imaginative and colorful, even employing for one woman, kinky boots! Composer Chad Raines gets our attention.
There are several references in the play to Russian Jews; I am still not sure what they meant. In the 1970's, I spent many hours calling to free Russian Jewish people and was successful in helping to bring the Panov's, ballet stars who were removed from their jobs and held in a tiny jail-like apartment, to America. I subsequently taught many Russian Jewish students in an English as a second language program. They and their families were overjoyed to have the opportunity to live and work here.
In all, The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls, is provocative theater from a new young writer. At the Yale Rep through `Feb 22.