In this ensemble work, the relationships among the sisters shape the characterization of each of them. One feature that makes the play convincing is that Anton Chekhov shows how each sister influences the other two while at the same time providing her with specific characteristics that distinguish her from the...
other two. As the oldest of the three sisters, Olga tries to dominate them, which she sees as offering guidance in a quasi-parental role. However, her personality is not necessarily conducive to successful domination; she “loses heart,” suffers from headaches, and often withdraws into her room.
One crucial fact is that Olga’s experience growing up was very different from that of her sisters. Although she sees her Moscow-centric orientation as evidence of her superiority, she does not always convince the others that they really lost out. Rather, her constant nostalgic reflections come across as regret or even whining. She even has nostalgia for things entirely out of her experience; she often comments on how she would have behaved if she had ever been married. Her brother accuses her of acting as if she is not “properly alive,” and her dialogue often shows her flagging spirits.
Moscow is a symbol of the whole family’s loss, so its appeal must come through; the job of depicting Moscow as more than an abstraction largely falls to Olga. She sees it in spring, with the flowering trees. The paradox of looking forward, or retaining hope, while also looking back, respecting tradition, is key to her character. In act 1, she states, “only one yearning grows stronger and stronger.” The challenge for an actor taking on this character, therefore, is how to make her sympathetic while still conveying that she has inner strength.