Posting in a rush, a classic Visitor move, but it can’t be avoided this week. Extra shifts at the drudgery, running around town to put a semi-secret, sneaky plan into motion which I’ll tell you all about later (hopefully if it’s successful, fingers crossed), and, best of all, plenty of theatre.
Kicking off this busy week is a trip back to Ottawa university and lovely Academic Hall, where the Unicorn Theatre gang were putting on what seems to be their final English-language mainstage play of the season, Witold Gombrowicz’ PRINCESS IVONA (or Iwona, księżniczka Burgunda for you purists out there), translated here helpfully by Krystyna Griffith-Jones. Directed by Ekaterina Shestakova, ol’Gombro’s 1935 text about class structure (and more than a hint of Shakespearean parody) is transformed here into a high-fashion glam-world, where the primping, preening Royal Family of Burgundia pass from one shallow moment to the next, looking smashing and striking poses. Infinitely self-pleased monarchs King Ignatius and Queen Margaret (Leslie Cserepy and Jaclyn Martinez, chewing some major scenery and looking good doing it) rule the scene, with loyal toady Chamberlain (Simon Lalande) never too far behind. Their only concerns are keeping their posh outfits current, and watching out for moody Prince Philip (Tony Adams, sporting some serious hair), although he’s mostly kept content by his own coterie of lackies, Simon and Cyprian (Cory Thibert and Jonah Allingham). All seems well, if utterly pointless, in Burgundia. Rufus T.Firefly would be proud.
Into this bright and shiny scene slumps Ivona (Laurianne Lehoullier), a slouching, frumpy, almost eerily silent waif in clothes so unstylish they must almost be illegal in Burgundia. Her fed-up Aunts (Alexandra Isenor and Lily Sutherland, doing double-duty as the Queen’s ladies) are trying to find a husband, ANY husband, to foist the girl off on…little suspecting the girl’s epic lack of style would attract the eye of Prince Philip himself. Whether as a joke, boredom, ennui or simply a vicious streak, Philip claims the girl as his bride-to-be, nearly sending the King and Queen into shock and rocking the Kingdom. And as the unlikely match carries on, despite the meek interference of a would-be rival for Ivona’s affections (Lewis Caunter), and the more potent wiles of Isobel (Ashley Rissler) towards Philip, Ivona’s meek presence stats to slowly unhinge the style-obsessed masses, until one by one they come to the conclusion that she simply HAS to go. One way or another.
IVONA is an absurdist bit of fun with a wickedly dark undercurrent, worth it almost for the stylish cavalcade of clothes, hair and makeup alone. The performances are uniformly solid, with May Can’s Tony Adams turning in solid leading man work as the petulant Philip, and Leslie Cserepy giving as good as he’s ever given as the paranoid and roaring Ignatius. Jaclyn Martinez has a wonderful solo scene where her Queen nearly collapses into madness, and she’s just goddamn dandy in it. But my big props just have to go to Laurianne Lehoullier as Ivona, in a nearly-silent role (I doubt she speaks a dozen words in the entire show), but commanding all attention with a physical performance that never once fails to ring true. It’s fucking fantastic, and a credit to both her and director Shestakova. She becomes the quiet little center of the brash, flashy kaleidoscopic show around her, and it works beautifully. The play takes some very dark turns, with some pretty tweaked outbursts, and a finale you won’t soon forget. A cool show and no fooling, and it runs until the 9th at Academic Hall I recommend the creampuffs at intermission. Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)
PS: Checkers (Samuel Dietrich) totally deserves a raise.