Thursday, May 28, 2015

Fringe review: Ivona, a dark and unsettling princess

Few plays in this year's Festival will plumb the depths of the human psyche more than Witold Gombrowicz's Ivona.

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.  

About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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