THE UNFORTUNATE MISADVENTURES OF MASHA GALINSKI written and performed by Erin Shields (Groundwater). At Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson). To December 2. $16-$22. 416-504-7529. Rating: NNNN
On the same day that Disney launched the film Enchanted, Groundwater Productions opened the latest incarnation of its fairy tale play The Unfortunate Misadventures Of Masha Galinski at Passe Muraille Backspace. Despite the lack of a Disney-sized budget, the work still brilliantly transports you to ancient European lands filled with eclectic characters and a darkly funny plot.
Writer/performer Erin Shields based the work on the fairy tale collections of Angela Carter , a Brit who reinterpreted culturally diverse fairy tales with a feminist bent. Here, Shields dispenses with the fairies, frills and romance of big-screen adaptations, choosing a darker, more lyrical (yet surprisingly humorous) narrative path.
Young Masha's story begins when her father loses her in a gambling bet. This launches her epic journey, during which she's no timid princess waiting to be saved. Masha's shrewd, sharp and headstrong.
On a bare stage, using no props and wearing only a loose-fitting black dress, Shields employs mime, movement and her resonant, lilting voice (plus a gift for creating hilarious animal sounds and foreign accents) to conjure up a fantasy world filled with monstrous and evil creatures. She seamlessly switches from one character to another, always clearly defining each in some unique vocal or a physical way.
The production team further enhances the magic. Gillian Wolpert 's lighting creates ambience through contrasts and shadows, and director Andrea Donaldson helps Shields establish the feeling of a journey by exploring many levels and filling the whole stage with whimsical movement.
Quirky 1930s tango music by the Francisco Canaro Orchestra adds a European flavour.
This terrifically inventive play compels you to engage with the material just as Shields does - a welcome change in a genre that too often force-feeds its audience morals and happy endings.