The absurdist theater group “Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium” (IRC) put on “Ivona: Princess of Burgundia,” directed by Tina Brock, as part of the Philly Fringe Festival, which ended this past Sunday.Anyone on campus last semester might recognize the bizarre title. Production Ensemble, a spring semester theater course whose function is putting on a play, produced “Ivona, Princess of Burgundia,” directed by Professor Elizabeth Stevens last semester. Swarthmore’s “Ivona” was unequivocally better.
The play, written by Polish playwright and author Witold Gombrowicz in 1938, is about how the royal court of Burgundia is affected by the presence of the title character, who is different from them.
That’s the bare bones of it. The interesting part is that Ivona has only a few lines throughout the play, despite being onstage more than any other character.
When the Prince of Burgundia sees Ivona in a park, he is enthralled by her, but he doesn’t know why. She incenses him, he says. On a whim, he asks her to marry him. This is shocking for the court, because Ivona is a repugnant commoner.
The real interest in this play comes from the fact that it is possible to play Ivona in a number of different ways. Three of her five lines include “Wool,” “Yes,” and “Please leave me alone, I am not afraid.” Some productions cut out her speech altogether. Because she says little, and other characters’ reactions to her are overdone and absurd, the director has to decide how to portray her. The clues in the script that directors and actors look to as a way of “figuring out” their character can be used in this case as evidence for a number of different conclusions.
For instance, Swarthmore’s Ivona was lifeless. She hunched forward on her seat and found it difficult to move; she had to be dragged from room to room, and often it seemed like she wanted to speak but just couldn’t remember how.
IRC’s Ivona was upright, elegant and proud. She didn’t speak because she was offended at how the prince had treated her when he first met her, and she was too prideful to lower herself to his level.
Either version of Ivona is an appropriate interpretation of the play. In Swarthmore’s version, the court is disgusted by Ivona because she is a real frump. It expects the prince to marry someone of high class, or at least someone beautiful and charming.
In IRC, the court hates Ivona because she refuses to bow to them, and because she has an air of superiority that the court cannot stand.
Swarthmore’s Ivona dressed in the same type of brightly colored clothing as the rest of the characters, and did seem to be a part of the world of the court. IRC’s Ivona, on the other hand, appeared onstage in a soft white dress, symbolizing innocence, purity and a bride on her wedding day. The rest of the court dressed in a mix between period-style and modern clothing. The result was that Ivona looked lovely while the court looked strange. They appeared to be from different worlds.
IRC’s portrayal of Ivona stops working at the end of the play, when the court conspires to kill her. The court has decided that she cannot live, so they plan to feed her a bony fish and intimidate her so that she chokes on a bone and dies. In Swarthmore’s “Ivona,” this works because Ivona was so stupid that she would not pick up on the plan, and so timid that she was frightened by the counselors.
In IRC’s show, Ivona was so intelligent and present that it was clear that she knew that when the court served her this fish, they were planning to kill her. She also did not appear frightened of the counselors at all. Nevertheless, she did eat the fish, and then she died.
What she did was commit suicide. However, the actress did not play the action like she was killing herself. The action was not clear; it was confused. It seemed as though the actress herself did not know why she was eating the fish. She ate it with a huge gesture, as though she was wondering whether or not to eat it, and then, suddenly — she ate it! But for no reason.
IRC’s portrayal of Ivona was strong in many ways but not fully developed. On the whole, though, their production was terrible. While Swarthmore’s actors played with the lines, finding the humor and the meaning, the IRC actors spoke quickly and loudly, with little variance and without seeming to know that they were speaking at all.
Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium’s Producing Artistic Director Tina Brock wrote in her director’s note, “I became hooked on studying non-verbal communication in college, fascinated with the many ways we speak volumes about what we feel and think without uttering a word.” An admirable sentiment. Unfortunately, she did not make use of this fascination in the slightest in her production.
Instead, it seemed like the actors were rushing through their lines in their haste to get off the stage and have a drink.