Witchy Women

Playwright Kira Obolensky adapts a scary story from her childhood.

Vasa Lisa
Photo by Peter Vitale
Be afraid Tracy Maloney stars in Vasa Lisa, which is based on a frightening Russian folk tale.

Playwright Kira Obolensky has a Russian thing going with Ten Thousand Things theater. In 2009, she adapted Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment for the company, and now she is creating her own take on a Russian folk tale with Vasa Lisa. “Michelle [Hensley, Ten Thousand Things artistic director] wanted to do a play with the female audience in mind, a fairy tale, so I used one that I grew up with,” says Obolensky, a first-generation Russian American.

The story has a strong central female, a young girl who, after her mother’s death, must make her way into the forest to confront the terrifying witch Baba Yaga. “At a reading of the play, Sally Wingert was so scary as the witch that my palms started to sweat,” Obolensky says.

Ten Thousand Things’ mission, “to bring theater to people with little access to the wealth of the arts,” means its work is performed in places such as prisons and drug-treatment facilities. This poses an extra challenge for the playwright, since the work needs to appeal to more than just the usual theater-going public, and elaborate sets are not an option. “That’s the excitement, seeing the story from different angles,” says Obolensky. “It has to have a big enough sweep of humanity, enough doors into it for everyone.”

The play may be based on a fairy tale, but it has plenty of resonance for adults. “It’s really frightening. But it’s still appropriate for kids, especially for girls who are at a point in life where they feel a little lost in the forest.” May 4–13. Open Book, 1011 Washington Ave. S., Mpls.; May 18–27. Minnesota Opera Center, 620 N. 1st St., 800-838-3006,