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Belfry Theatre revisits the tale of Baba Yaga

Sandler’s comedic rendition of a Slavic folktale is a celebration of female power
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Kat Sandler uses the Slavic folktale of Baba Yaga, the witch who lives in a magical hut that sits on chicken legs, as a launching pad for an exploration of female power in its many forms – wisdom, rage, motherhood, and sex. (Courtesy Belfry Theatre)

Kat Sandler’s play Yaga, coming to the stage at the Belfry Theatre from Sept. 12 to Oct. 8, is a comedy – sort of.

The story draws its title from the Slavic folk story known as Baba Yaga and is part thriller, part revenge and, in Sandler’s version, a lot of comedy. The main character, a wicked old witch, is a legend who lives alone in the woods and grinds the bones of the wicked. But, perhaps, she’s actually a sexy, smart, modern woman operating out of morally ambiguous motives.

“What I like about Yaga is that she refuses to play by other people’s rules and that’s what makes her resonate with me and for other women today. I really wanted to create a strong, complex, female villain,” Sandler said in a recent interview.

“I think that exploring a dark subject as comedy allows you to explore that dark subject with more depth.”

In Sandler’s version, a gruesome murder in a small town leads a female sheriff, a cocky young detective, and a university professor with a penchant for younger women into a complex maze of secrets, magic, and multiple suspects.

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At the heart of the story, it’s a tale about female power.

“Women right now are reclaiming the way we talk about ourselves. We are finding power in the retelling of the stories that men traditionally told about us,” Sandler said.

Michael Shamata, artistic director for the Belfry is full of praise for Sandler’s approach.

“I love Kat Sandler’s writing—she is a playwright of fierce intelligence and piercing wit. In her hands, the cannibalistic ogre Yaga is incredibly good company—wry, self-aware, and very funny. A seductress can also be seen as an ogre—devouring her victims,” said Shamata.

“Sandler has woven a stunning play using both these interpretations. Yaga is a comedy, a mystery, a celebration of feminine power, and a dazzling theatrical treat.”

Described by the Globe and Mail as a “cunning labyrinth”, Yaga races along and draws you into a world where nothing is quite what it seems.

For information and ticket information, visit belfry.bc.ca/yaga.