Imagine the fairytale stories you heard in your childhood. It's easy to dismiss those stories as fantasy now, as an adult. But, what if those stories began to come to life as true? In a production in which the fairytale world underlies, leaks through and eventually overtakes real life, award-winning director Tom Whitaker and the cast of six young women bring to the stage Meg Miroshnik's play, The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls.

On the surface the story is simple: the twenty-year-old Annie, born in the Soviet Union and raised in Los Angeles, ventures to mother Russia, to claim her birthright. However her journey, set in both the rapidly changing Moscow of 2005, and the world of traditional Russian fairytales, is complex and darkly funny. Underneath the urban surface of clubs, vodka, cigarettes, and rip-off designer handbags lies a darker forest. The aunt she visits turns out to be not her aunt, but someone more sinister. Her new best friend has a boyfriend who has transmogrified into a bear. Each Russian character springs from the land of fairytale - dark, comic or risque?.

"I've never read a play like it. This 'once upon a time' tale is a great story. It's an exciting journey; a wild ride that takes us to unfamiliar places - yet these places seem oddly familiar. The play has mystery, danger, magic, humor and adventure," said director Tom Whitaker.

The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls portrays the classical heroine's journey, and the journey to adulthood - in which we continually engage throughout our lives. In the journey from childhood to adulthood our heroine, Annie, travels far from the familiar and secure and battles demons both interior and exterior. Annie must learn to become heroine of a story more mysterious and treacherous than any childhood fairytale: her own.

"It's a play about empowerment, and particularly female empowerment. None of the characters are victims. They are survivors--remarkably resourceful, and spirited women. There's a very strong sense in the play, and in the ensemble, of women supporting each other. And, it's an amazing ensemble piece for six actresses," says Whitaker.

The play also asks us what fairytales can mean to us as adults. "One can dismiss fairytales as fantasy, but this really isn't correct. Fairytales are in fact quite true," said the director. It is no stretch of the imagination to understand what it means when we learn that one of the characters has a boyfriend who has turned into a bear - a possessive brute who lies around drinking vodka. The parallels between fantasy and reality lead the audience to question, is this fairytale or is this real? The answer is, yes!

A finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Award, the play is the winner of the Kendeda Award and through that award, premiered at the Alliance Theater. In a Russian translation (by Maria Kroupnik), it was the winner of the Masterskaya na Begavoi and is a part of the Repertory at the Moscow Playwright and Director Center. The play was produced at Washington Ensemble Theater in September 2012, and will have its professional American premiere at Yale Repertory Theatre in February 2014.

The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls performs February 14 - 22, 2014 in the UCSB Performing Arts Theater. Tickets are available online at www.theaterdance.ucsb.edu and by phone at 805.893.7221.

Photo by David Bazemore

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