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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tale of Olga Told Literally, Humorlessly




Yury Volkov's "Princess Olga," produced jointly by the National Youth Theater and the All the World International Theater Center, tells the story of the Kievan princess who was the first in the ancient land of Rus to accept Christianity and who was probably the first to make an effort to instill in that society the rudimentary principles of whatwe now call civilization. As directed by Olga Garibova, it does little more than literally tell that story.


For most of the two-hour performance, the actress Lyudmila Chursina walks about the stage narrating the tale of her own life.


Volkov does provide for the limited participation of Olga's husband Igor, her son Svyatoslav and her devoted Greek monk Grigory, but I would not be too far off calling this a one-woman show with extras.


There is also a horde of reveling subjects who mostly grunt as they energetically go about their business - fornicating (on the pagan sacred night of Ivan Kupala), engaging in commerce, preparing for war and resisting Olga's efforts to make them accept Christianity.


On the stage of the Youth Theater, designer Ksenia Shimanovskaya created an attractive performance space that makes minimal use of props. Most prominent on the usually empty stage is an oversized throne or crown-like structure made of animal designs in branches and roots. Boris Volkov's lighting slices the depths of the stage into layers and, using blue hues, allows for strips of white sheets to represent water.


Chursina, the peak of whose popularity came in the 1960s and 1970s thanks to numerous roles in hit films, is given little to perform. I mean that both in the sense that there is so little action, as well as in the sense that Volkov created not a living person, but an iconic image.


Olga's status as a larger-than-life legend is reflected in transitory elements of the set - as when a miniature village of log cabins becomes a platform for her to walk on - and in Garibova's decision to amplify Chursina's voice through a microphone. Her words, especially when whispered lowly, acquire an imperial air.


None of this lends itself to good theater. Volkov's play is too much a civics lesson to have any real drama and Garibova's direction undermines what sympathy we might be inclined to feel for this interpretation of Olga by approaching it with such heavy solemnity.


- John Freedman