IVONA, PRINCESS OF BURGUNDIA, Strawdog Theatre Company. Fairy tales are wonderful vehicles for satire. Voltaire used the device in Candide, Jonathan Swift in Gulliver's Travels. And in 1935 avant-garde Polish playwright Witold Gombrowicz wrote a vicious, hilarious attack on self-serving, autocratic rulers based on a common fairy-tale premise: a prince falls in love with an innocent peasant girl. But this girl isn't just poor--she's dirty, disheveled, and deranged. The prince is a jaded rogue who clearly chooses Ivona because she's certain to offend his parents, and the royal family contemplate murder as a solution to their "constitutional crisis."
The Polish authorities, rightly seeing the play as an attack on the country's virtual dictatorship, were not amused. Despite being published in the esteemed literary magazine Skamander, the play was not produced in Poland until 1957. It couldn't have helped the work's popularity that it anticipates the nihilism of theater of the absurd and succeeds brilliantly at capturing human behavior at its most brutal. Yet these are the qualities that make Ivona seem fresh today.
Gombrowicz's inspired satire is well served by Kirsten Kelly's playful, intelligent production, which uses every theatrical trick in the nonnaturalistic bag--cartoonish makeup, eccentric movement, odd sound effects, expressionistic stage pictures. And Kelly's wonderful ensemble prove adept at re-creating Gombrowicz's caricatured universe without ever chewing the scenery. Stacy Parker is especially moving in the largely mute role of Ivona, conveying more with a glance than other actors do with several lines of dialogue.