The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls Combines Old and New in Compelling Production.
By Karen Isaacs
A play introduces the audience to a young playwright with a distinct voice, is one of the great pleasures of theater going.
That is now happening on the Yale Rep stage with The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls by Meg Miroshnik through Feb. 22.
In the play she tells multiple stories of young women in Moscow. These are the last generation to have any remembrance of the Soviet era, but their lives have dramatically changed. They wear short skirts, high heels, go to parties and cultivate older, wealthy men, who are usually married.
Into this milieu is dropped Annie; born in Russia, her Jewish parents emigrated to the U.S. just before the Soviet collapse. To some extent her mother regrets the move -- after all now she shampoos hair but in Russia she was a professional and opportunities to make money abound in the "new" Russia. So Annie is sent to Moscow to learn "business" Russian and, as her mother says, "to claim her inheritance." But what is that inheritance?
In Moscow, Annie lives with Yaraslava who is the same age as her mother but looks incredibly old and who feeds her constantly. She also meets two other young women -- Masha and Katya, as well as a successful prostitute, Nastya. But all of these are more than they seem; Yaraslava is really Baba Yaga, a ravenous witch and Nastya is a fairy godmother of sorts.
The stories of their lives and adventures are told as parallels to classic Russian fairytales, which we are told do not start with "once upon a time" nor end with "they lived happily ever after." Instead they begin with "they lived, they were."
Like the classic fairytales of our youth, the Russian fairytales are populated with children and witches, dangerous animals, the fight for true love, and even momentary happiness. As told in The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls you see resemblances to Hansel & Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and others.
Emily Walton plays Annie with a large dash of American naiveté, optimism and spunk. While her real name is Anya, she calls herself Annie and also mentions "Little Orphan Annie." You can see the resemblance. Sofiya Akilov plays Masha, the less sophisticated of the Russian girls. In her performance you see the struggle to adapt to the new ways. Celeste Arias brings confidence and sophistication to the role Katya, whose cunning and intelligence has landed her a wealthy "protector". As Baba Yaga, Felicity Jones combines motherliness with an undercurrent of danger; even without the narration, you feel something just "isn't right."
Stephanie Hayes and Jessica Jelliffe portray a variety of roles including the successful prostitute and Annie's mother.
All of this is presented with accompanying music, a mixture of rock and rap. Since it is sung by the women, it caused more than one audience member to think of the Russian group Pussy Riot whose members were jailed and who are now touring the US.
Director Rachel Chavkin exhibits a knowing and deft hand at keeping this one act, 100 minute play engaging and clear as we see both the fairytales and the real lives occur.
KJ Kim's costumes captures both the old and new Russia, but it is difficult to see how the actresses can walk on the Rep's raked stage in the incredibly high stiletto heels.
You will be delighted by the creativity, imagination and production of The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls.
The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls is at the Repertory Theater, 1120 Chapel St. through Oct. 12. For tickets and information contact the box office at 203-432-1234.
This review appears in Shore Publishing Community Newspapers February 19, 2043 and online at Zip06.com.
Posted on 2.13.2014