Fairy Tale Lovers' Delight: Read an Excerpt from Kat Sandler's Dark & Funny Play, Yaga
The story of Baba Yaga, the forest-dwelling witch who grinds bones in her chicken-legged house, is one of the most enduring, strange, and iconic images from world folklore, and that's saying a lot. So it no surprise that Kat Sandler, the artistic director of Toronto's Theatre Brouhaha, who has proven herself to be one of the most exciting playwrights working now, would be drawn to the timeless witch's enduring appeal.
Sandler is consistently witty, unflinching, dark, and (in the best way) strange in her plays, and Yaga (forthcoming from Playwrights Canada Press) is one of her most compelling pieces yet. Translated to the modern day, Yaga follows a detective to a small, isolated town where he is investigating the disappearance of the heir to a yoghurt empire (yes, you read that correctly).
He meets a mysterious a university professor with a taste for younger men, as well as a lot of interesting and suspicious characters, giving the Baba Yaga myth a murder mystery twist that makes for great comedy and spectacular storytelling. Nominated for the Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding New Play (an award Sandler has already won once and been nominated for another, separate time), Yaga is a delicious retelling that empowers the female character at the centre of the story.
We're proud to present an excerpt from the play here today courtesy of Playwrights Canada Press.
Excerpt from Yaga by Kat Sandler:
Meet Katherine - Katherine’s office - Katherine / Rapp
RAPP with two coffees.
Rapp: You said milk and sugar, / right?
Katherine: Oh, no... / Black
Rapp: Oh, fuck sorry. I can go get you / another one.
Kath: That’s alright.
Rapp: Your office is very fucking cool. This is a fucking cool... skeleton thingie... Was it like a / bird or...
Rapp goes over and pokes at a fucking cool skeleton thingie.
Katherine: Please don’t touch that.
Kath: You seem a little young to be a detective.
Rapp: (takes a sip of coffee) Oh, blech. Oh, fuck me. Oh, this is your coffee! You must have mine. You wanna trade?
Kath: No, / thank you.
Rapp: Come on. I just took one sip! What—you afraid I got cooties?
Kath: I’m sorry, how old are you Mr. Rapp?
Rapp: You can’t just go around asking people how old they are—how old are you?
Rapp: Well you don’t look a day over fifty.
Kath: Well, thank you very much. I looked great at fifty.
Rapp: You look great now, and it’s, Detective Rapp... “How old are you, Detective Rapp.” Like you didn’t go through, what, a decade of training to be called Mrs. Yazov, right?
Kath: Ms., actually.
Rapp: He died?
Kath: No, there’s no “he”.
Rapp: She died?
Kath: Someone has to die for me to be unmarried?
Rapp: Yazov, that’s... Russian?
Kath: Originally, yes, but my family’s Ukrainian.
Rapp: I love perogies.
Kath: Yeah. Please call me Katherine. Everyone does, even my students.
Rapp: Got it, but I’m gonna call you Dr. Katherine then, you know, because we go through all this training to be official, right, to get like, your doctor badge?
Kath: We don’t get badges.
Rapp: But wouldn’t that be funny, if a doctor had to like, show you his badge—just a second, Ma’am, let me just find my doctor badge, ah shit! Where’d I put that fucking thing? (as nurse) Doctor, doctor, he’s bleeding out! Beeeepppp.
Kath: I’m not that kind of doctor.
Rapp: Right, you’re an academic doctor. You must be very smart.
Kath: Oh, I am.
Rapp: What’s your like,... speciality?
Kath: No, bones. And zoology is the other one—I believe you just observed a lecture of mine.
Rapp: Yeah, the invisible monster. Cool stuff.
Kath: Yes, it is.
Rapp: Hey, you saw me? I didn’t just look like a student, on account of my youthful demeanour?
Kath: I notice a new face.
Rapp: You must be very observant.
Kath: Yes, I am. Sorry, am I being interrogated?
Rapp: No, no, I just have a few questions about a student, are you single?
Kath: That’s relevant to your investigation?
Rapp: Yes, and I’m / just
Kath: I’m sorry, how old are you, Detective?
Kath: Oh God, you’re younger than my daughter.
Rapp: You have a kid!
Kath: Yes, I’m very progressive, unmarried with a child, can you just ask me questions like this?
Rapp: We’re just chatting. Sparring. You don’t like sparring with me?
Kath: Oh, sure. You’re affable enough.
Rapp: That’s not a real word.
Kath: Yes it is.
Rapp: Sounds made up.
Kath: No, it isn’t.
Rapp: You’re fucking with me.
Kath: I wouldn’t.
Rapp: Are you flirting with me?
Rapp: Little bit?
Kath: Detective, I don’t like being teased.
Rapp: I’m not teasing.
Rapp: Did you want some harder questions?
Rapp: Some hard-hitting questions?
Rapp: How old are you really?
Rapp: You don’t look a day over fifty-five.
Kath: Thank you.
Rapp: What’s your stance on abortion?
Rapp: Assisted suicide?
Kath: Love it.
Rapp: Do you know any Henrys?
Rapp: Henry Kalles?
Kath: Well, I know he’s missing—it’s all over the school. Are you only just talking to people now?
Rapp: No, I’m only just talking to you now.
Kath: Well he’s not my student —
Rapp: That’s not what I asked—
Kath: You think something happened to him?
Rapp: Like what?
Kath: I... have no idea...
Rapp: We’re investigating all avenues.
Kath: Well, what can I do to help?
Rapp: How well would you say you know him?
Kath: I / don’t...
Rapp: (listing) Not well, well, like a brother, intimately, biblically?
Kath: (beat) Not at all.
Rapp: Well, but... that’s not really true. He interviewed you for his podcast, a couple months ago—didn’t he?
Kath: Oh that, you listened to it?
Rapp: Yeah, but not your episode, because that’s the weirdest thing... your name is there... the date... the subject... but you click on it, nothing happens. Dead link. How come?
Kath: Technology, alas, is not my strong suit.
Rapp: Well, maybe you can fill me in on what you talked about.
Rapp: Well not just bones, right? Baba Yaga. That’s the name of the episode. I Googled her, (pulls out phone) from Wikipedia: "In Slavic folklore, Baba Yaga is a supernatural being or one of a trio, appears as a deformed and ugly old woman, flies in a mortar, wields a (pronounces PESTAL) pestle"—
Rapp: Pestle, thank you. "Often seen in tales like Ivan the Bold."
Kath: (pronouncing it "Yvanne") Ivan.
Rapp: Ivan, okay, so she’s like a... ghost story?
Kath: Or a fairy tale.
Rapp: Pretty fucked up fairy tale...
Kath: Most of them are.
Rapp: But she is a witch, right?
Kath: People think so.
Rapp: Pam Riley said something about a Witch.
Kath: Pam Riley.
Rapp: Yeah, the boxer? She’s the one who told me you were on the podcast.
Kath: So you’re talking to me because I was on Henry’s podcast? That’s a crime?
Rapp: No, no. Although maybe it should be, that podcast is so bad, it’s criminal. But I was just speaking to some people and... I mean you seem to have a bit of a... kind of a...
Kath: Do I?
Rapp: Don’t they call you something? You know what it is I don’t need to / repeat
Kath: Lots of professors have / nicknames.
Rapp: Boner Beast?
Kath: Bone Beast. Because I teach about bones and animals, and I’m tough. It’s a joke.
Rapp: I don’t get it.
Kath: Who told you that? Pam Riley?
Rapp: Yeah, Henry’s ex, you know her?
Kath: Oh yes, Pam Riley, was in my class, she hates me. (Rapp: Oh). I failed her last semester. She has certifiable anger issues, and I’ve heard can be quite violent. (Rapp: Hmm.) So, if I were you, I’d look into her.
Rapp: I’ll keep my options open, but she also said that you and Henry maybe...
Kath: You have an ambiguous nickname, and a podcast interview and you’re suggesting I... ?
Rapp: You’re right, you’re right, now that I’ve met you... seems unlikely, because you’re quite a bit older—
Kath: He’s a student!
Rapp: Yeah, not your student, you’re not some predator... I mean, technically you are in a position of authority, but because you’re a woman it wouldn’t be as creepy, even though he is like, so much younger... what is he, twenty-one? Twenty-two?
Kath: I haven’t a clue!
Rapp: I’m saying if you had dipped a toe in...
Kath: (suddenly angry) Now you listen, young man—
Rapp: Young man. Wow...
Kath: —Maybe you should check your sources before you go around making serious accusations that could affect / people’s livelihood—
Rapp: What exactly do you think I’m / accusing you of
Kath: I’m very sorry that boy is missing, and I sincerely hope you find him. If you’ll excuse me, I have a class to teach.
Rapp: Take my card.
Kath: I don’t need it.
Rapp: Well, I’ll just leave it here. In case you want to get Ethiopian sometime. (on his way out) Hey, you know about any witches here in Whittock?
Kath: I’m sure I don’t need to tell you this, Detective, but witches aren’t real.
Excerpt from Yaga by Kat Sandler, a play published by Playwrights Canada Press. Copyright 2022 by Kat Sandler. Reprinted with permission.
Kat Sandler is a playwright, director, screenwriter, and the artistic director of Theatre Brouhaha in Toronto. She has staged seventeen of her original plays in the last eight years, including Yaga and the concurrent double bill of The Party and The Candidate, where the same cast raced back and forth between two theatres to perform two simultaneous plays. Her play Mustard won the Dora Mavor Moore Award for Best New Play and BANG BANG was nominated for the same award. Kat is a graduate of the Queen’s University Drama Program and is based in Toronto.