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Theater | REVIEW

In 'Ivona,' sadness never felt so good

June 17, 2005|Rob Kendt | Special to The Times

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 Wofford.

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.

*

'Ivona, Princess of Burgundia'

Where: Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, Hollywood

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays

Ends: June 26

Price: $20

Contact: (310) 281-8337

Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes

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