Fairytales are never sweet. Think of the cannibalism in Hansel and Gretel, the bullying in Cinderella, snf the child abuse that Snow White endures. Fairytales show children the line between fantasy and reality, but they also serve as entertainment for those adults who now have the age and wisdom to see the supernatural elements and humor in those stories that have influenced our childhood. The retold fantasies in Meg Miroshnik’s The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls not only serves the purpose of entertaining that adult audience, but also showcases the stellar acting produced by Manbites Dog Theater, with production support from the Duke University Department of Theater Studies.
Classic meets contemporary in the first scene of the play when Masha (played by Jessica Flemming) greets the audience with a soliloquy — performed in red hoodie and killer red suede thigh-high stiletto boots. She’s running from a boyfriend who appears to be a bit of a jerk, though we don’t know him well until later in the play.
It’s clear from the first moments that the acting is impressive and the lines are delivered with an adult audience in mind. Except for the musician (Bart Matthews), whose sounds become a character in itself, the actors in this rejuvenated fairytale are all female — and all remarkable.
Annie (Faye Goodwin), daughter of an overbearing Russian mother (Olga, played by Laurel Ullman) returns to her mother’s homeland in order to explore her own history and, ironically, is lowered into the Post-Soviet world of capitalism, cannibalism, and confusion. With a warning to “sleep with one eye open,” Olga pushes Annie back to Russia, hoping that her daughter will learn more Russian and share her capitalistic ideas with Olga’s Russian relatives. For 90 minutes, the audience follows Annie on her confusing tour of the past and adventurous examination of childhood fantasy.
Throughout the play, action happens quickly and believably. Each of the actresses is immersed in her character and conveys the weirdness of the story to the audience, but Carly Prentis Jones, who plays Baba Yaga/Yaroslava, the aunt/wicked witch who has a human-baking oven in the middle of her Russian apartment, is delightfully horrendous. Jones, normally a beautiful woman, literally transforms for this role, becoming a bulgy-eyed, cruel-mouthed witch who wants Annie to jump into her human-cooking stove.
Mikaela Saccoccio (Katya), a Raleigh theater artist, performs at Manbites Dog for the first time and embodies the gold-digging aspects of her man-hunting character. With a pocketbook slung on her arm and the highest of heels on her feet, she is the atypical mistress — Russian-style.
And Jeanine Frost, whose roles include the Bear, Potato, Other Katya, and Nastya, manages to move from one character to another with none of the schizophrenic tendencies that might happen to an actress managing so many personalities.
Because a lot of the story is told via soliloquies, the tale comes together in bits and pieces. Without such a talented cast, the play might seem fragmented; but Jules Odendahl-James’ directing is strong and effective. The themes of the play are sewn together with a jagged stitch that works for this story. With this play, that’s the best way for the characters to tell this contemporary fairytale.
SECOND OPINION: April 24th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article19392501.html; and April 22nd Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-fairytale-lives-of-russian-girls/Event?oid=4380552.
Manbites Dog Theater presents THE FAIRYTALE LIVES OF RUSSIAN GIRLS at 8:15 p.m. April 25, 8:15 p.m. April 30-May 2, 2 p.m. May 3, at 8:15 p.m. May 6-9 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $10 ($5 students) weeknights and $20 ($10 students) weekends, with a $2 discount for seniors 62+ and active duty/reserve military personnel.
BOX OFFICE: 919-682-3343 or https://manbites.tixato.com/buy.
SHOW: http://manbitesdogtheater.org/2014-15-season/the-fairytale-lives-of-russian-girls/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/761229507326318/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://vimeo.com/125099315.
2014-15 SEASON: http://manbitesdogtheater.org/2014-15-season/.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/, https://www.facebook.com/manbitestheater, and https://twitter.com/ManbitesTheater.
BLOG (The Upstager): http://theupstager.wordpress.com/.
The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls (2012 play): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/56381/fairytale-lives-of-russian-girls-the (Samuel French).
Meg Miroshnik (Los Angeles playwright): http://www.megmiroshnik.com/ (official website) and https://twitter.com/megmiroshnik (Twitter page):
Jules Odendahl-James, Ph.D. (director and Duke University director of Academic Engagement, Humanities): http://www.julesoj.com/ (official website), http://advising.duke.edu/jules-odendahl-james (Duke University bio), and https://twitter.com/naturalreadhead (Twitter page).
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater reviews. She is also Dean of General Education and Developmental Studies at Piedmont Community College in Roxboro, where she oversees the theater program at the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex, and a member of the Person County Arts Council. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click https://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.com/.