Fringe review: Ivona, a dark and unsettling princess

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Heather Cole and David Stanger, Photo by Johanna Austin

Few shows in this year's Fringe Festival will plumb the depths of the human psyche more than Witold Gombrowicz's Ivona, Princess of Burgundia.

Courtiers in this fictional kingdom encounter Ivona (Heather Cole), described as an affront so ugly she stands as an unbearable reproach. She returns their teasing malice with an anger-inciting apathy. Prince Phillip (David Stanger) turns ridicule into a ruse; he decides to marry the girl, throwing the royal family into a murderous fury.

Hints of Macbeth, Lear and Hamlet peek through the tapestry of Gombrowicz's play, and like Shakespeare, Ivona employs both laughter and tragedy to tease out the unwelcome reminders of our darker natures.

As theatre, it's a piece of literature par excellence; the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium's spellbinding production compresses the epic scope of an opera into a microcosm of human malice. The maddening performances teeter from jest to despair to viciousness, the constant shifts of mood all the more real for what they reveal about humanity's inability to stomach a difference that refuses to indulge, let alone acknowledge, convention, lies and self-deception. Tina Brock's direction tempers this with moments of blistering humor; Erica Hoeschler tops garish costumes of neon spandex and paisley prints with wigs festooned with toilet paper rolls. Haunting music accompanies dreamlike monologues, and Maria Shaplin's lighting enshadows Lisi Stoessel's set of castle walls to recede into a dark point on the horizon.

These elements provide enough distance that the play, unlike its titular character, does not stand as a rebuke or indictment. But this Ivona, engaging and funny and insightful, still shimmers like a mirror we should feel some shame to peer into, or at the very least, cackle back a t in fascination and horror.

-- Jim Rutter

Ivona, Princess of Burgundia. At the Walnut Street Studio 5, 825 Walnut St. Tickets: $20. Runs until September 23, Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30PM, Sunday at 2:30PM.  

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