Seven actors of various genders and ethnicities stand in a row. They are all wearing brightly colored extravagant clothing, except for a figure in the middle in plain earth tones, who is standing behind an empty picture frame with a cartoon version of a dollar bill shoved in their mouth.
The cast of Princess Ivona at Trap Door Theatre Credit: J. Michael Griggs

In Witold Gombrowicz’s fictional kingdom of Burgundia, the royal court is bored. One day Prince Phillip (Keith Surney) and his consort, Simon (Gus Thomas) happen upon Ivona (Laura Nelson), a cowering and often mute peasant girl. Having nothing better to do and looking to outrage his family and friends, the prince announces that Ivona will be his bride. He gets a lot more than he bargained for.

While rarely speaking, Ivona has an ironclad will and an unerring instinct to do the opposite of what is expected of her. She bewitches and confounds King Ignatius (Bill Gordon) and Queen Margaret (Manuela Rentea) while enraging the Lord Chamberlain (Kevin Webb) and Isobel (Cat Evans). Each has ambitions and schemes which Ivona upends by her arrival. She’s a chaos agent they all want to snuff out for individual motives, but every plot is a threat to all the others. It’s a mess and that’s the point.

Princess Ivona
Through 2/19: Thu-Sat 8 PM, Sun 7 PM, Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland, trapdoortheatre.com, $25 (two for one Thu)

The stage design by J. Michael Griggs is minimal even by Trap Door’s spartan standards: some semitransparent white drapery and a couple of clothing trunks—one long enough to hold a small body. There’s also a picture frame that functions as a mirror one minute, a camera the next. The nonspace in which these privileged little monsters frolic is mostly furnished by their fantasies and desires that seem to mutate and transform whichever way the winds blow. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Rachel Sypniewski’s costumes reminded me of Dr. Seuss and Edward Gorey by turns. They’re as loud as the set is quiet. Lord Chamberlain’s habit of shedding gloves only to find a different colored set underneath is a visual summation of the self-delusion and fickleness of everyone in this royal court. By the time he peels the last pair to expose his hands, he’s both horrified and surprised by their appearance. Neither the chamberlain nor anyone else knows or wants to know who they truly are. Ivona might know but is silenced before she can say.

Burgundia feels like a very familiar kingdom in Jenny Beacraft’s staging. A place where loud hollow pronouncements reign and there’s little patience for inwardness or doubt. A country addicted to self-promotion, and one that will backstab anyone who pushes back on the official narrative. 

Ever been to a place like that?