If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
Adult “Fairy Tales” at Yale Rep
If not at the Yale Repertory Theatre, where else? I’ve said that before in this column and it rings true again with the theatre’s current production of “The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls”. Here is one of those “out-there” productions that would only be produced by the New Haven landmark and we’re all better off because of it. Of course, it isn’t always smooth sailing and even this latest offering has its issues, but let’s take cheer that when it comes to adventurous theatergoing, we can still count on Yale Rep.
A graduate of the Yale School of Drama, playwright Meg Miroshnik called upon her Russian background for her wildly inventive and creative “Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls”. Set in 2005, the play (with a spectacular all-female cast) follows the adventures of Annie (Emily Walton) who, at the urging of her mother, returns to her native Russia to stay with her aunt. What follows is a subversive journey down a Russian rabbit hole where familiar tales (“Hansel & Gretel”, “Cinderella”, and “Little Red Riding Hood” among others) are skewered and utilized as acerbic commentary on Russia’s current economic, housing and political struggles.
Miroshnik does not lack in imagination and “Russian Girls” is a flavored stew rich in characterization and magical realism as evil stepmothers, witches and a ferocious bear all enter the picture. At Yale they also give a shout-out to Pussy Riot with the inclusion of an on-stage punk rock band with the actors (is there anything they can’t do?) taking turns playing incidental music. At times the play’s anything-goes mindset veers wildly off-track and the busy plot can confuse if you’re not paying close attention. But at a breathless 90-minute running time (no intermission) the excellent director, Rachel Chavkin, keeps a firm hand on the proceedings.
In addition to the wonderful Miss Walton, whose wide-eyed Annie has a substantial core to her character, Felicity Jones has arguably the best role playing her creepy, mysterious aunt. In Russian folk tales she is called “Baba Yaga”, a witchy hag with extraordinary powers who, nonetheless, withers and ages whenever asked a question. It’s great fun watching Jones die a little death every time a question is posed to her. The remaining actors, Sofiya Akilova, Celeste Arias, Stephanie Hayes and Jessica Jelliffe, juggle roles, change costumes and beat drums with enviable conviction and flair. This is one of the strongest acting ensembles of the theatre season thus far.
Christopher Ash’s ever-changing scenic design creates a world that is grounded in reality but is ready to soar into flights of fancy at any moment. Bradley King’s lighting calls for some eyeball-searing spots aimed directly at the audience and Chad Raines’ sound design is simply remarkable adding greatly to the overall effect of this magical world. “The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls” will no doubt have its detractors. When material is this challenging and edgy it’s bound to divide audiences. But count me in as a big fan.
“The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls” continues at the Yale Rep through February 22nd. For further information call the theatre box office at 203.432.1234 or visit: www.yalerep.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.