RUSSIAN FAIRY TALES GET A NEW SPIN

BONNIE GOLDBERG

The ominous cackle of a witch, the growl of a menacing bear and the weird adventures of characters who resemble Goldilocks and Little Red Riding Hood quickly give the impression that Dorothy is not in Kansas any more. Fairy Tales traditionally tell folk lore stories that prove there is a long distance between "once upon a time" and "happily ever after" and, more often than not, they never converge. Stuffed as they are with demons and devils, and witches and wolves, they are all too scary and fantasy driven in the extreme.

Playwright Meg Miroshnik wants to take you along on an adventure she herself took, thousands of miles to her family's home in a novel, theatrical experience at the Yale Repertory Theatre until Saturday, February 22. "The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls" is based on a real trip Miroshnik took almost a decade ago and mirrors to a small extent the voyage her heroine Annie takes as a twenty year old, returning to her native Russia to perfect her Russian language skills and to lose her American accent. Annie gets a lot more than she bargains for as she is transformed, eagerly or accidentally, into a fairy tale world.

Annie, a hearty and spirited Emily Walton, kisses her mother (Jessica Jelliffe) good-bye and sets off to stay with her aunty (Felicity Jones) who ages every time she is asked a question and greatly resembles a witch right down to her broomstick.  She is soon fattening Annie up for what is sure to be a tasty meal. Think Hansel and Gretel. Watch out, Annie, there are dangers around every doorway and potato (yes, even the potatoes can be evil).

Annie soon hooks up with a coven of weird friends, like the two Katyas (Celeste Arias and Stephanie Hayes), and Masha (Sofiya Akilova) who quickly have Annie dressed in unusual garb (courtesy of designer KJ Kim) and trapped in folk tales laced with danger. Her mother has sent her off with an evil eye pin, but can it shield her from the big brick oven or prevent her from leading a hard knock life? Mama warns her not to wander off the path, but, of course, Annie does. Fairy godmothers and evil stepmothers, poisoned apples, complicated riddles, enchanted flying hands and talking vegetables are just a few of the encounters Annie faces in this strange journey of discovery, on a bizarre set designed by Christopher Ash, under the inspired direction of Rachel Chavkin. A punk rock band loudly punctuates the action, with original music by Chad Raines.

For tickets ($20-98), call the Yale Rep, 1120 Chapel Street, New Haven at 203-432-1234 or online at www.yalerep.org. Performances are Tuesday to Saturday at 8 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinees selected Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Be careful where you walk as you venture with Annie down strange paths, into the woods, to encounter unusual characters, with only one evil eye pin as protection.

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