TIMES (Critic's Choice!)
'Ivona,' sadness never felt so good
This is emphatically not a Hollywood pairing: He's reed-thin, spiky-haired and given to childish tantrums; she's tubby and nearly mute, with all the vim of a potato bug.
These two are the unlikely and unhappy couple at the center of "Ivona, Princess of
Burgundia," Witold Gombrowicz's zippy fable of vanity, insecurity and ennui, now in a knockout production at Sacred Fools under director Philip
Everything is in its right place here, from the cast's high-precision commedia aplomb to Rachel Bickley's frilly, silly, period-neutral costumes. This is a fairy tale world that tumbles easily, almost inevitably, into the absurdist abyss.
It starts when restless, willful Prince Philip (Michael Kary) decides, against the wishes of his family and his fair-weather friends, to claim the ugly duckling Ivona (Dawn
Stahlak) as his bride. Not out of love, mind you, but because he recognizes a "proud, affronted queen" under her rat's nest of hair, her phlegmatic expression and her sad, reddened eyes.
Ivona's sore-thumb presence at court drives everyone to distraction: The hotheaded king (Steven
Ruggles), the nerve-jangled queen (Ruth Silveira), their insinuating courtier (John
Wuchte), Philip's sidekick Simon (Paul Plunkett) and Philip's would-be betrothed Isobel (Adrienne
Picard). Without saying much more than a few words, and without ever getting the obvious royal makeover, the disheveled, depressive Ivona — aptly nicknamed "Grumpy Dumpy" by her future father-in-law — unwittingly stirs this crepe-thin world into a free-for-all of recrimination and rancor.
The mopey Stahlak and the tetchy Kary headline Sacred Fools' strongest cast yet. As diverting as it is disturbing,
"Ivona" is the best sort of theatrical brain candy.
-- Rob Kendt
©2005 L.A. Times
Director Philip Wofford uses farce and
extravagantly stylized acting to balance the poignant, biting commentary in Polish playwright Witold Gombrowicz’s 1935 satire that’s sometimes caustic, sometimes amusing. Rachel Bickley’s clever, clownish costuming and Lisa D. Watson’s strategically bare-bones sets combine with Jason Mullen’s minimalist yet intense lighting and Shane Laser’s music into a streamlined presentation. The performances are intentionally controlled and robotic, with standout work by Michael Kary as the Prince who becomes inexplicably fascinated with frumpy, incommunicative Ivona (Dawn Stahlak). Ivona’s pathetic presence triggers a frenzy of bitter introspection by the King (Steven Ruggles) and Queen (Ruth Silveira), illustrating the theme of how we recognize in our enemies what we despise in ourselves. The play quickly shifts back and forth between humor and solemnity, offering an intensely provocative journey.
©2005 L.A. Weekly
Never a group to shy away from artistic challenges, Sacred Fools presents a highly stylized version of Witold Gombrowicz's 1935 satire, translated in 1969 by Krystyna Griffith-Jones. This is Gombrowicz's first of several plays that view societal conformities with a harsh eye, and it's a clear example why his work was banned for decades by the Nazis, and then the Communists. The characters in the show are like puppets being manipulated by invisible strings. To accent that analogy, director Philip Wofford has his cast members perform as if they are marionettes. Their movements are stiff and calculated, and their acting style veers toward melodrama. Wofford's vision suits the play well, and all of the lead performances hit their emotional and technical marks. With assistance from creative sound- and light designs, the production makes the most of the material, though ultimately the production fails as a whole, because the script drags severely in the middle of the second act. It becomes too repetitive to sustain its one intriguing concept.
The story revolves around the actions in the royal court of Burgundia, where everyone acts exactly as they believe they are supposed to. But one day Prince Philip (Michael Kary), bored with the sameness of it all, rocks the community's foundation by choosing as his fiance Ivona (Dawn Stahlak), a woman cursed with "sluggish blood," who rarely speaks and who barely can stand, let alone walk. Everyone, including the prince, is repulsed by her. But Ivona's refusal to follow society's rules causes everyone, including the King (Steven Ruggles) and the Queen (Ruth Silveria) to reflect on their imperfections and inner ugliness.
Though she speaks only a few lines, Stahlak brings emotional depth and a great deal of humor to Ivona. Her imploring and exasperated stares, and the way she sloshes and staggers, are captivating. The remaining cast is solid, but the standout is Kary as the Prince. He deftly straddles the line between sarcasm and seriousness, and that puts the story into perspective. Wofford fully embodies this play with the puppetry concept, from heavy makeup to the choreographed entrances and exits. It's not until the second act, when the script runs out of new thoughts, that the production loses steam. But, up until that point, it's an entertaining ride.
-- Jeff Favre
Can people fall in love with someone they hate?
If you're a FOOL then apparently so, as the Sacred Fools tell us in their recent presentation. This way over the top opus is so absurd and bizarre you simply have to see it to appreciate it. You'll definitely appreciate the excellent ensemble acting and the many laughs that wrap around its message. Poor Ivona. She's unattractive (ugly - with a capital U) and has no social skills, doesn't talk and is completely withdrawn. In fact, she's the kind of person who can light up a room - by walking out of it - except she doesn't walk. She suffers some debilitating illness, so she has to be dragged from one place to another, and when she sits, one had better make sure the arm-rests are sturdy, else she'll plop over, much like a new baby.
So why does Prince Philip, (who fancies himself a free spirit) feel drawn to her? As he puts it, because she inspires repulsion.
One suspects that this young man, who lives in an indeterminate time, in an indeterminate kingdom is happy to make his parents squirm, (not at all like today's youth who is obedient and dutiful - HA!!) so he becomes engaged to her.
The silent scream from those around him is deafening but his royal parents accept the girl, lest Burgundia becomes embroiled in scandal. To churn more monkey wrenches into the mix, Ivona actually falls in love with him! What to do? The poor lad has no other choice but to (gulp) reciprocate her feelings.
But after all, there is Isobel, a beautiful court maiden who loves Philip, and when he compares her to Ivona - there's just no comparison. Besides Ivona is beginning to have an effect on the court. Her stony silence makes people think and in that thinking, reflect on their imperfections. Even the king speaks of his wilder earlier years, and when the queen realizes her poems seem to have an aura of Ivona - that's just going too far! It seems as if by her silence, Ivona is forcing people to do things they never expected, and when the word gets around that the populace is beginning to laugh at the royal family, well, there's just no way that can be accepted!
She must leave the court! But how?
Death is good!
With three different plots being hatched to kill her, the only question is: who will succeed? Will Philip's dagger do the deed? Will the queen succeed in her plot? With the king and the Lord Chamberlain manage to pull off their plan?
Author Witold Gombrowicz is considered to be one of the 20th Century’s most important authors in Europe. You know you've reached greatness when your work is banned by the government, and Gombrowicz had the distinction of being banned not just by the government of Poland, his native land, but also by the Nazis AND the Communists. That must mean he was a really good writer - but it was his subtexts that caused ripples. Nobody cares about an ugly girl who can't find love - unless that girl is a metaphor for a society that is kept ignorant by a government that is too arrogant to care - and when the government sees the girl (read- population) begin to cause problems by forcing people to think about the truth, there is only one solution!
The Sacred Fools are certainly no dummies. They have made a strong statement with this production that although rooted in a fantasy, resonates loudly with some of our realities today.
Hollywood's Sacred Fools Theatre presents Wittold Gombrowicz's IVONA, PRICESS OF BURGUNDIA, a comical play of a prince's fall for a common "uncommon" woman, in spite of what the King and Queen have to say!
The kingdom is the mythical land of Burgundia, located somewhere in Europe. The land is ruled by the King (Steven Ruggles) and Queen (Ruth Silveira). Their son, Price Philip (Michael Kary) falls from a woman named Ivona (Dawn Stahlak). She isn't princess material. She is a rather homely woman who barley speaks. In fact, she doesn't do much of anything except exist! Philip sees her as someone who expresses herself by not expressing anything! All is "well" until Philip then becomes engaged to another woman, but Ivona isn't though with Philip quite yet and Burgundia isn't through with Ivona.
This play was originally written in the 1930's by playwright Gombrowicz in his native Poland. (Krystyna Griffith-Jones provided the English translation). It was meant to be played as a satire looking at some of the ruling class by their way of acting way back when for the good (or not so good) of their respected nations. That was then. Today, is seems as a silly and rather funny look of a nation that plays more like comedy relief than as a threat to the world it exists in! Philip Wofford directs this production that features many of the Sacred Fools regulars and a few newer faces, too! The rest of the cast includes (in alphabetical order) Lisa Brando, Kathi Copeland, Adam Harrington, Mike Karson, Philip Newby, Lisa Anne Nicolai, Adrienne Picard, Taylor Sutherland, Katie F. Ward, and John Wuchte.
In short, IVONA, PRINCESS OF BURGUNDIA is yet another 'classic' Sacred Fools production! It's amusing, it's quirky, and it's funny to a point where after a while, one wouldn't know when it would be proper to laugh! It's a play that only this theater group can get away with! What does all of that mean? That simply means that one will get their money's worth! One can either see a bland play somewhere else, or one can see this serious comedy (or comical serious) at the home of the "Fools"!! You be the judge and jury!
©2005 Accessibly Live Off-Line