Now extended thru December 5th!
Life isn’t a fairytale…until it is
|Trap Door Theatre presents|
|The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls|
Review by Clint May
History records facts, but folklore records truths. Modern stories from the ill-fated Sucker Punch to the much better Pan’s Labyrinth demonstrate how our tradition of fantasies relate us to the experience of living by showing how these fairytales are the truths—the repeating waveform functions, if you will—lying behind the curtain of our so-called reality. The archetypal forms are always there, and at various points in our lives we channel the characters and places we grew up learning. Meg Miroshnik makes these parallels literal in The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls, now playing at Trap Door Theatre, where a few of Russian folklore’s greatest characters collide with real world women looking to take some power back from a male-centric world.
Sent by her mother (Ann Sonneville) to spend a summer in Russia learning about her roots, Annie (Emily Nichelson) is a twenty-year old on the cusp of womanhood. A mysterious old woman (Marzena Bukowska) will be her caretaker during the stay, but there’s a mystery about her true identity. Her neighbor Masha (Simina Contras) reveals that the old woman is never seen leaving the apartment though she always has plenty of food. Not that Masha is too concerned. Her boyfriend recently transformed into a real bear, and her friend’s have drifted off into “fairytale” stories of their own. Katya (Halie Ecker) has become a thrall and mistress to a wealthy man called The Czar, while Nastya (Meghan Lewis) has gone into the world of prostitution. The four of them will team up and harness the primal power of myth to defeat those ancient forces who would consume them in Putin’s modern Russia (consumption is a repeating motif throughout, representing how culture, love and career eat us alive).
In the course of the production, the ‘girls’ tell us the actual folktales and fairytales that counterpoint their own lives. Russian fairytales are a little different than ours (there are no actual fairies, for instance). Instead of “Once upon a time…” they begin with “They lived, they were…” which is as haunting a piece of existentialism as I’ve heard in some time. Baba Yaga (Marzena Bukowska) features prominently as well she should. She is a unique figure in all of folklore with only glancing corollaries in other canons. Sometimes helpful, sometimes a hinderer, she confounds attempts to pigeonhole. What she mosts hates is little girls and the constant questions they ask—each one of which ages her by one year.
Nicole Wiesner keeps the 90 minute show vivacious at nearly every point. There’s no choreographer in the credits, but whomever created the stylized movements that infuse the production deserves some accolades. There’s a sardonic hard edge leavened with dry humor you’d expect from Russian storytelling and none embody this spirit better than the wonderful Contras. Polish native Bukowska joyfully inhabits the larger-than-life character of the ever-hungry witch bent on plumping Annie for a large stew. There’s a nifty balance of humanity mingled with the legendary that suffuses the girl power theme. Burlesquian costumes by Rachel Sypniewski stylize both the subjugation and the exaltation of female power.
Though Fairytale Lives is too abstract to touch the heart, it does wonderfully illustrate our sense of communal connectivity and the importance of mythological literacy. As a cohesive whole, it’s very messy, but as a conceit, it’s rather charming and therefore largely forgivable. There’s a touch of gleefully naughty magic in these Pussy Rioting girls. They aren’t seeking “happily ever after”—just happy for the next five minutes. It’s as pragmatic a desire as any. Take that, Brothers Grimm.
The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls continues through
November 21st December 5th at Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm. Tickets are $20-$25, and are available by phone (773-384-0494) or online through TicketLeap.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at TrapDoorTheatre.com. (Running time: 90 minutes without intermission)
Photos by Michal Janicki
Marzena Bukowska (Babushka, Baba Yaga, Auntie Yarolsava), Simina Contras (Masha, The Girlfriend), Halie Ecker (Katya, The Mistress), Meghan Lewis (Other Katyam The Daughter, Nastya, The Whore), Emily Nichelson (Annie, The American), Ann Sonneville (Olga, Passport Officer, Professor, Valentina)
behind the scenes
Nicole Wiesner (director), Gary Damico (assistant director), Aaron O’Neill (set design), Richard Norwood (lighting design), Rachel Sypniewski (costume design), Danny Rockett (sound design), Zsófia Ötvös (make-up design), Milan Pribisic (dramaturg) Gary Damico (stage manager), Michal Janicki (photographer)