Rarely does a play confuse the senses in quite the way that Princess Ivona did this past weekend on the Adams Memorial Stage of the ’62 Center. The campus was abuzz with questions about and reactions to Associate Professor of Theatre Omar Sangare’s third production here at the College. Ultimately, however, the play perplexed the theatergoer in the absolute best way possible. As a fellow audience member put it, “You go for the experience, not for the plot.” Once the audience realized for what to take the play, it became easier to immerse oneself in the sheer genius of the design and direction, which deeply conveyed the “questioning and restless” nature of its playwright, Witold Gombrowicz, as Ilya Khodosh ’08 described in the playbill.
Sangare brought in international, national and alumni talents to help in creating what was perhaps the most ornate yet bare-bones stage I have ever seen. The set itself portrayed the two-dimensionality with which the characters acted, playing keenly on the obsession with the artificial in the culture of King Ignatius’s court. The sinister black and red of the costumes and lights worked off each other to provide a striking dichotomy between the supposedly plain Ivona, portrayed brilliantly by Petra Mijanović ’15, and the rest of the ornate cast who were painted from the beginning by Prince Phillip, portrayed by Bailey Edwards ’16, as distant, arrogant and elitist.
Probably the most striking part of the performance was the way that Sangare utilized the theater to counterbalance the two-dimensionality of the stage. The tone was set from the beginning with four cast members planted in the audience, much to the excitement of more than a couple of theatergoers. The play used these characters later to draw a comparison between the homely Ivona and the Innocent as played by Benjamin Rosenblum ’16 in one of the more surprising performances of the night. The performance went further than the average production that uses the house as a stage, in that there was some audience participation as well, yielding uncomfortable and ultimately confused theatergoers finding themselves involved for a small fraction of the performance.
The more exciting and fittingly absurd parts of the night came as characters paced throughout the audience, some ending up in full chase scenes. But the pinnacle of ridiculousness was naturally Mike Druker ’17 being lifted by a court of men-in-waiting from one level of the audience to the stage. These absurdities helped highlight the humor in this play, which is in many ways a Shakespearean parody. As a result, even the craziest and most dangerous of the characters became comical caricatures of themselves, though this did not necessarily make their attributes less frightening. A wild-eyed Queen Margaret, portrayed by Carina Zox ’16, struck discomfort into the audience, while the serpentine demeanor of Lord Chamberlain, played by David Carter ’16, was an unsettling interpretation of Druker’s right hand man. His reptilian personality complete with head rolls and tongue flicks helped imitate the slippery, sinister nature of the entire court.
The play moved very quickly, with a run time of a little under an hour and a half. Many elements of the original script were cut out, also leading to some confusion with the speed and veracity of the plot’s progression. These were assuaged by the performances of both the main and supporting cast who were assisted by the lights, set and sound in telling a haunting story about why Princess Ivona was a threat who needed to be eliminated.
On the line of being a Shakespearean parody, Sangare’s production seemed to play off of many notes from the department’s fall production of Hamlet, which was directed by Chair and Professor of Theatre David Eppel. In this version, though, Sangare avoided the complex language of the former, choosing to illustrate the beauty of Ivona’s scenes not through ornate text but rather with a new-age set of flashing lights, turning panels and moving walls of pillows. All in all, it was a breathtaking performance that left the audience perplexed but pleased in all of the right ways.