By Paulina Herran
On Nov. 11, Undermain Theater opened its second show of the season, “The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls,” directed by University of Dallas graduate Dylan Key (’11). Written by playwright Meg Miroshnik, the play delves into Russian fairytales by retelling old tales with a modern twist and some raunchy humor. By using traditional folk tales, Miroshnik explores contemporary issues such as feminine identity and the great disconnect that so many first-generation American immigrants feel from their heritage when they leave their home country at a young age. In order to get a better understanding of the play, reading the study guide provided at the beginning of the program is extremely helpful in establishing background information for stories such as that of Baba Yaga.
“The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls,” acted by an all-female cast, weaves reality and fantasy so tightly together that it is difficult to discern the realistic aspects of the play from what is meant to be taken symbolically.
“Fairytales as a rule are full of nothing but totems, emblems, and archetypes,” Key said. “Certainly our design is influenced by the Jungian triad of The Virgin, The Mother and The Crone, and yes, they are all metaphors of some sort. In the theater and really all storytelling, aren’t we always trafficking intended meanings both populist and esoteric?”
As a modern fairytale, one can imagine there are certain technical issues when dealing with magical aspects such as giant bears and invisible hands.
“It’s a very complicated technical show, with plenty of moving pieces, special effects and magical props,” Key said. “The last couple weeks of technical rehearsals have been quite demanding but really lifted the production to the necessary level of wonder.”
Despite the difficulties of having many magical aspects in the play, the cast did an exceptional job of keeping transitions and prop rotations smooth. The only time it got a little strange was when three invisible hands started attacking Annie, the protagonist, with a bag of potatoes; however, this scene was also hilarious and thus the awkwardness of it was excusable.
With quick costume changes and the conglomeration of so many fairytales, focusing on the words of the play could sometimes be difficult due to the distracting mechanics of it. I left wanting to know for sure what was meant by certain aspects of the play.
“I’m not sure if plays have purposes, meanings, or messages so much as concerns, questions, and itches needing to be scratched, to steal a term from Dr. Roper,” Key said. “‘The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls’ is concerned with the relationship between the lineage from which we identify with (sic) and the ways we integrate that history with our future decisions, hopes and dreams.”
“The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls” is an entertaining hybrid of realism and fantastical comedy that leaves the audience both contemplative and amused. Despite its humorous delivery, the play does touch on some more serious aspects of life, finding one’s identity being the main point.
“Often one’s passage from adolescence to maturity is a bildungsroman of choosing which narratives and stories from your childhood will define yourself in adulthood […] ‘Which stories of myself are ones I wish to carry with me into the future?’” Key said. “Annie’s Russian-born but lives in America. How does she synthesize these twin backgrounds? She’s a contemporary woman but follows in a long-line of mothers and grandmothers, how does she negotiate her current situation with their examples? And of course the play is particularly about women, and the choices women face in relation to their lovers, mothers, husbands, best friends, boyfriends, etc. How do these women seize control of the narrative governing their own existence?”
By the end of the play, Annie finds her true identity only after confronting the roots of her past.
“Flannery O’Connor writes that she often puts her characters through a ‘passage by dragon’ in order for them to gain maturity, and Olga, and really all of the Russian women, the ‘dragon’ Baba Yaga included, serve to facilitate Annie’s own ‘passage by dragon’ from which she escapes with a new maturity, autonomy and self-actualization,” Key said.
Key says he was positively affected by his time at UD.
“I deeply wished for an opportunity to study the liberal arts within a Catholic community,” Key said. “The Core curriculum, clearly vibrant faith life of the students, and the kindest of admissions offices sealed it for me.”
While completing his bachelor’s degree in English and drama, Key began his career at Undermain.
“I started working at Undermain during finals week of my senior year, running right from Dr. Walz’s Phil of Being exam to help out backstage on Undermain’s production of ‘The Shipment,’” Key said. “After interning there for a year they offered me a position on staff as an artistic associate.”
Key offered advice to current UD students that he seems to follow himself. “Be confident in the depth of education you’ve received but also aware that, in many ways, the UD Core curriculum most importantly teaches you how to learn, and the time to actually put those muscles to work begins once you’ve graduated,” Key said.
“The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls” play runs until Dec. 6. Tickets may be purchased at www.undermain.org.