Opening Nights: The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls

Folklore updated for the age of Putin.

This enchanting little tchotchke melds magic and mayhem in post-Soviet Russia, commingling centuries-old folklore with the crass new Putin era. Your head will spin at the decidedly leggy hotness of young damsels trying to keep a foothold in reality while wearing five-inch heels and dodging ravenous drunken bears and witches who know just how to fatten up a pretty young thing.

In a haze of flesh-meets-fantasy, young playwright Meg Miroshnik envisions a culture awash in booze, privation, and misogyny. The brilliant tacticians at Washington Ensemble Theatre render it via multipurpose sets, whimsical shadow-puppet vignettes, and costumes that would wow the judges of Project Runway. Miroshnik's fable begins in 2005 as Annie (Samie Spring Detzer), a Russian ingenue raised in L.A., returns to her birthplace with plans to lose her American accent and maybe pick up a few professional contacts. Her mother has set her up with a place to stay—with an "auntie" who is no blood relative but just might be a bloodthirsty witch. (She only leaves her tenement late at night to fly the skies in a giant mortar and pestle.)

Along the way, Annie meets a variety of alternately chilly and needy Russian women who troll the nightclubs for vodka, men, and money. It's an ensemble piece; several members of the all-female cast pull extra duty in multiple roles. Under Ali el-Gasseir's direction, nary a Russian accent is out of place. Moving scrims redirect the action from one locale to another until their spinning takes on a hypnotic effect and, like Annie, you're left wondering what's real and what's imagined.

In this regard, Fairytale Lives is an Alice in Wonderland–style tumble down the rabbit hole. Cast into a dangerous and bewildering unknown, an innocent must forge new alliances and become the agent of her own salvation. Miroshnik's new one-act, in its West Coast premiere, is both familiar and surreal. As with WET's prior Bed Snake and Milk Milk Lemonade, it lands in the uncharted territory between social commentary and pure imagination.

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