Trap Door Theatre.

A young prince stumbles upon Ivona, a peasant woman so unattractive (in his eyes and in the eyes of the court) that he feels compelled to have her at once, eager to experiment with the automatic revulsion she calls up. “She is my turmoil–I must marry her,” he proclaims with all the usual impetuosity of the standard hero. But Witold Gombrowicz’s extreme and ugly play is nothing like the usual storybook tale. In this engaging exploration of power and self-loathing, Ivona–a drooling Christ figure–wanders the halls of a corrupt court, oblivious to the defensive anger her presence provokes. Her eventual death, by collective assassination, is inevitable.

Running throughout Ivona, Princess of Burgundia is a sardonic, thorny sense of humor. Which this Trap Door production, under Zbyszek Zasadny’s direction, manages to stifle almost completely, substituting self-importance for humor, uncomfortable posturing for experimentation, and shrillness for farce. While Trap Door should be commended for trying this difficult piece, they seem awed by Gombrowicz’s reputation as a leader of the Polish avant-garde in the 30s and treat his play with a lifeless reverence–when they’re not mugging gratuitously. As the prince, Sean Marlow manages to break through to some honest moments, both humorous and poignant, and Beata Pilch is a luminous and refreshing presence as Ivona. But neither can overcome the deadly air of pretension that hangs over this production.

–Stephanie Shaw

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo.