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Originally published October 5, 2012 at 5:32 AM | Page modified October 5, 2012 at 4:15 PM

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Corrected version

'Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls' is a subversive romp through modern Moscow

A review of "The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls," at Washington Ensemble Theatre through Oct. 22, 2012.

Seattle Times theater critic

Theater review

'The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls'

Through Oct. 22, Washington Ensemble Theatre, 608 19th Ave. E., Seattle; $15-$25 (washingtonensemble.org)
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An evil stepmother. A wicked witch. A ravenous bear. Separated siblings. Young girls in peril.

Meg Miroshnik's inventively comic "The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls" plugs these mythological figures into post-Soviet Russia and adroitly subverts them.

Washington Ensemble Theatre's (WET) production, directed by Ali el-Gasseir, employs its excellent way with surrealistic spell-casters with this brew of Russian folklore and "Sex in the City"-on-the-Volga.

For starters, several leggy Moscovite glam girls with glazed Paris Hilton allure (played by Libby Barnard, Shannon Olivia Campbell and Leah Pfenning) preen and narrate with deadpan profanity and suggestive leers. And, da, the enchanting visual aid of R-rated shadow puppets.

The shaggy tales wind and intersect, and at times seem headed off the rails. But hold on, and we're in a heroine's journey from innocent passivity to dominance.

Unglam SoCal gal Annie (Samie Spring Detzer) takes a back-to-her-roots trip to Moscow, despite dire warnings by her Russian émigré mom (Aimee Bruneau).

In her guileless American enthusiasm, Annie doesn't instantly suspect that her host (Macall Gordon) is fattening her up for a kill. Or that her two blasé pals face mythic dangers as well.

Miroshnik's fantastical romp reflects on Putin-era Russia, suspended between 21st-century glitz and ancient superstition.

And alongside the hilarity, there's a feminist undercurrent: Young women, the victims of many a legend, take charge of their own fates.

A WET forte is this ilk of imaginative, neo-surreal romp, dispatched here with pop-out acting (in borscht-thick accents) and ingenious design work (by set designer Amiya Pennebaker Brown, puppet designer Megan Tuschhoff and others).

"Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls" leads off WET's new season on a high note. The freewheeling company continues with new and recent plays by local author Paul Mullin and others.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

This article was corrected on Friday, Oct. 5, 2012. In an earlier version, Libby Barnard's last name was misspelled.

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