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In “Kill This Woman” Svetlana Atanassova Grabs the Emotions of the Audience

November 25, 2009 by · 1 comment


In Kill This Woman Svetlana Atanassova Grabs the Emotions of the Audience
When Svetlana Atanassova is on stage in this play by Mayia Pramatarova, she holds nothing back. Yet, miraculously, she does not appear exposed or vulnerable. It is those of us sitting in our comfortable theater seats that begin to feel defenseless when she shouts out “Kill this woman!” and then whispers “Why?”

Svetlana’s character, a former actress, spends the night of her 50th birthday not simply reminiscing about her past but actually reliving her memories and facing the images of the most important people in her life: her father, her husband, and her best friend.

She also talks about the meaning of acting and being an actress, the risks and “side effects” of art. In doing so, she frequently enters the role of celebrated Russian actress Alla Nazimova to compare Nazimova’s life and career, a seemingly perfect model of artistic greatness, to her own far-from-perfect life of an actress who has moved to the United States to become a wife, a mother, and an immigrant.


As Svetlana assumes the theatrical poses of Nazimova and then fluidly moves back into playing the doubts and regrets of her character, the boundaries begin to blur. The audience feels that whatever role Nazimova may have performed in a crowded theater, Svetlana’s character has acted out on the intimate stage of her own life. She is still acting now, by herself, on her 50th birthday. It is easy to tell which kind of drama carries more is more forceful.

No one can see this performance without identifying with the thoughts of the character when she concludes, with both humor and melancholy, that “Dreams become true when they are properly formulated.” She is ready to confess that she never properly formulated the dream to become a great actress, the way Nazimova did, making us all think of all the things we “could have had”… if only we had wanted them badly enough to give up on everything else.

And here is another feeling that many can share, though perhaps reluctantly: the character admits that she has delivered her very best performances at home, in front of her husband, and concludes, “Some terrible power made me get married.” Whether these thoughts bring a bit of laughter or a quiet tear doesn’t matter. The point is that Mayia Pramatarova’s text gets under your skin and won’t leave you at peace.

But don’t get me wrong. This is not one of those performances, the ones about the choice between motherhood and having a career (as if such a choice really exists) and about choosing “life over art.” Let’s leave these roles to Julia Roberts, or some other polished doll.

Towards the end of the play, the character stands in a spotlight and, rather than reading a famous monologue like the great Nazimova, she reads out a one-page letter from her husband showing that theater and life can become so closely bound that nobody’s choices can truly extricate one from the other.


The set of the play and multimedia work by Vladimir Gussev for Kill This Woman support the its message and deeply enrich its expression without overwhelming the viewer. While different images are projected on a screen in the back of the stage, Svetlana Atanassova interacts with the multimedia art and leaves a mark on the mind of the viewer, in the same way that a black and white photograph would capture not just a moment in time, but a living memory.

In Svetlana’s hands, the multiple stage props take on a life of both exquisite theatrical manipulation and pure emotion. Just so that, in blood red, deep black and stark white, we see a human being who acts and an actress who lives.

The emotional connection between actor and audience in Kill This Woman never breaks. Not for one second. And as Svetlana goes back to the famous line from Salome, “Kill this woman!” those of us in the audience are ready to whisper “Why?” with her.

This is a performance that makes you ask and search. A mercilessly sincere, powerfully creative, memorable performance.

Photos: Slava Doicheva

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