Vasa Lisa

Photo by Paula Keller.

by CHRISTINE SARKES SASSEVILLE

Fairy tale adventures, good versus evil and self-empowerment are the allegorical threads woven into local playwright Kira Obolensky’s Vasa Lisa, a highly entertaining play presented by Ten Thousand Things Theater at the Open Book (8:00 p.m. every Fri., Sat. from May 4 until May 13). Just in time for Mother’s Day, the play ultimately celebrates a young woman’s desire to create her own fairy tale ending while cherishing and honoring a lost mother’s love, legacy, wisdom and guidance.

The play weaves together several Russian folk tales, including “Vasa Lisa the Wise” and Baba Yaga, the witchlike character who lives in a deep woods hut and kidnaps (and presumably eats) children. In most of the tales, Baba Yaga is portrayed as the evil antagonist but in some she dispenses wisdom and guidance to lost souls.  In Obolensky’s Vasa Lisa, Sally Wingert takes on three roles convincingly:  the fiercely devoted mother, the scary Baba Yaga who eats children and the mother/grandmother spirit who leads Vasa Lisa to self-discovery.  As the playwright herself describes: “The fairy tale about Vasa Lisa may feature a witch who lives in a hut with chicken legs, but it is really about human issues like finding our way when we are lost, listening to our inner knowledge, and dealing with all the various kinds of bullies who exist in our lives.”

In Russian folklore and in Obolensky’s play, Vasa Lisa is the lost soul who is forced to perform a series of tasks that help her defeat the villains of the story and discover her true strength and character.The pieces of string that Vasa Lisa (Tracy Maloney) collects during adventures throughout the play literally shape the fabric of her story and final destiny. She is helped by a wooden doll representing simultaneously her inner voice and her mother’s guiding spirit.

Vasa Lisa encounters a series of good and evil characters along the way, including her brutish father (Luverne Seifert) and the hilariously depraved mother-daughter duo played by Jim Lichtscheidl and Elise Langer.  Lichtscheidl’s campy portrayal of Vasa Lisa’s new, gold-digging stepmother is highly entertaining as are his other characters of Misery, a greedy crow and Ingrid, the maid to Baba Yaga.  All of the players and musicians were impressively multi-talented, taking on muliple characters as well as singing and manipulating the spare props that decorate the performance space. The props are ingeniously designed:  one minute standing as a doorway arch, the next transformed into a mysterious tree. The Open Book venue is both hip and intimate, with the audience inches away from the players who perform in full lighting. The musical numbers seemed a little forced but were otherwise amusing.  This is the second Ten Thousand Things Theater production I have attended recently and I recommend that you run, don’t walk, to next season’s performances beginning in September (www.tenthousandthings.org).

Vasa Lisa, by Kira Obolensky. Directed by Michelle Hensley. May 4- 13 2012. Ten Thousand Things Theater Company, at Open Book, 1011 Washington Avenue South, Minneapolis. Tickets: $25, Students $15 (Sundays). TTT also offers free public performances at various locations. See their web-site for more details.

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