The new play opening tomorrow night at the Yale Repertory Theatre, The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls, was written by Meg Miroshnik who graduated from Yale School of Drama in 2011. The production is not a world premiere because Miroshnik’s first stop after leaving Yale was Atlanta where, as a recipient of the Alliance/Kendeda Graduate Playwriting Award, she was a resident for a year, during which time The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls was staged at the Alliance Theatre in 2012. Miroshnik had actually written the play before her final project at YSD, The Tall Girls, which was featured in the Carlotta Festival here in 2011, and that play will receive a professional staging at the Alliance this March, as part of the 10th anniversary celebration of the Kendeda Award. Both plays Miroshnik describes as “coming of age” stories, and both have in common—with “girls” in their titles—a focus on young women. Tall Girls, about a high school girls basketball team, has a single male role and Russian Girls has an all-female cast.
The story concerns a Russian girl, Annie, who returns to Moscow—from LA—in 2005, to brush-up on her language skills. She finds a Russia transformed by the trappings of capitalism (this is before the global economic downturn) where young women dominate. Miroshnik says that, at the time, life expectancy for Russian males was age 57, so that her perception (Russian Girls derives from time Miroshnik spent in Moscow in that period) was of a city overrun by “hyper-feminine women, considering themselves as commodities in the booming consumer culture.”
Against this boom backdrop, Russian Girls looks at the way fairytales contribute to female identity, exploring “character archetypes” as well as “comedy stereotypes.” Situations such as encountering a girl-eating witch or having a boyfriend who is a bear are part of the matters on hand. Miroshnik’s intention is to begin with an opening that is “80% real, 20% fairytale” then switching it so that fairytale dominates reality about 80%-20%. This transformation involves highly theatrical elements that clearly are out of this world as well as absurdist details from newspapers that audiences may be surprised to learn are actually true. In other words, Russian Girls suggests that reality is never quite as obvious as we like to think it is.
But what of the reality of the Russians depicted? An interesting development that took place between the play’s initial workshop reading in Paula Vogel’s playwriting class at YSD and its first staging at Alliance was the opportunity to see the play given a studio presentation—in Moscow, in Russian! In 2010, Miroshnik went back to Moscow and the show was translated and, she says, greatly altered for use by a Russian company. Seeing the show in Russian, Miroshnik began doing “edits for speed” and was able to test her vision of Russian girls against real Russian audiences.
And will this staging be different than the one at Alliance? Quite a bit, Miroshnik says: director Rachel Chavkin, two-time OBIE-Award-winner who directed the premiere of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, has “a radically different vision of the play,” and, for starters, the Russian girls are now members of a punk band. Enter Chad Raines, YSD grad, rock-band mainstay (for his own band The Simple Pleasures and, for much of 2012-13, as guitar and synthesizer on world tour with Amanda Palmer) and Critics Circle Award-winning sound design man, to concoct songs for the group and to do that voodoo that he do so well. The Rep’s Russian Girls is bound to rock.
Whether in workshop, at Alliance, in Russian, or in rock, Miroshnik’s play seems to be showing both endurance and a certain useful malleability. While the Rep staging will no doubt be a technical marvel in many ways, the play itself seems adaptable to many kinds of spaces. Miroshnik mentions that her mentor, Paula Vogel, would point at the “third production” of a play as the point at which the playwright relinquishes it and lets it have fully a life of its own. Miroshink laughs pleasantly when I suggest that perhaps in the not-to-distant future her play will be staged by YSD students—the Yale Cab’s new season ends with a play by celebrated YSD playwriting grad Tarell Alvin McCraney. Writing plays strong in roles for women, as Miroshnik does, seems not a bad strategy for revivals.
And what’s next? Miroshnik wouldn’t give too many details about her current projects, except to say that she has been at work on a play that’s more of a character study and less an ensemble piece as both the Girls plays are, and to say that each of her plays requires “a different engine”—such as basketball or fairytales—to drive the action. Like Vogel, Miroshnik is a firm believer in “stretching or exercising a different muscle with each new play.”
In any case, it’s not too much of a stretch to expect that The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls will be a fascinating and entertaining debut of Meg Miroshnik’s work at the Yale Rep.
The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls By Meg Miroshnik Directed by Rachel Chavkin
Yale Repertory Theatre January 31-February 22, 2014