Our production of Princess Ivona bridges between Gombrowicz's "Burgundia" -- a world of European aristocractic castles and courts -- with our own contemporary world of wealthy, confident urban Americans. In both cases, the characters tacitly agree to certain codes and conventions of behavior and dress. Without precisely translating the action of the play into a contemporary American context, we are choosing to construct an aesthetic for the production which exists somewhere between contemporary urban San Francisco and Gombrowicz’s fantastical and imaginary Burgundia. The talented visual designers behind our production -- Latifa Medjdoub, Brian Yarish, Ariane Fehrenkamp, and James Lyons -- have created a strong sense of timelessness and theatricality which allows us to explore Princess Ivona as a character with 21st-century sensibilities, without necessarily locating the action of our production in any specific place or time.
As the action of the play unfolds, spectators will gradually move deeper into the large, stunning new space of the Performance Art Institute (PAI) in San Francisco’s SOMA district. PAI recently opened the doors to this new venue, formerly an enormous storage warehouse; and with a large donation of stage lighting we secured from Stanford University, we will be turning the cavernous space of PAI into a bold environmental theatre experience. The openness of the interior at PAI will allow us to reorient audiences in different environments over the course of the evening, in total contrast to traditional theatrical staging, in which the set changes while the spectator remains static.
Accompanying this production, the extraordinarily talented singer and string player Meredith Axelrod will play the songs of the “old, weird America” -- the bizarre blues numbers, children’s ballads and murder songs of the late 20s and 30s which burst into American consciousness through Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, released in 1952.
These songs, while aesthetically far from the world of European courts or contemporary urban sophisticates, beautifully echo the arc of the play’s narrative, without simply restating it or illustrating it in musical form. In many ways, the weirdness of the world of this music is akin to the weirdness of the silent Ivona – she is both “natural,” in the sense of refusing to play the game of masks and theatricality of which the court partakes, but also “uncivilized,” in the most complicated sense of that word. Meredith will function as a kind of Greek chorus, telling musical tales of love and cruelty which amplify or give a different perspective on the themes and action of the play, and serving as guide for the spectators’ experience of both the text and the space of PAI.
Textile designer Latifa Medjdoub will be using pieces from Forest, a series of soft sculptures that have previously existed in a number of conceptual and performative situations. For Princess Ivona, the cast, together with the public from the Zero1 Biennial Exhibition at PAI, will fabricate a new and larger abstract knitted-fiber piece, built on a computerized loom. This piece will ultimately be animated in the play, and will convey narrative, thematic, and psychological aspects of the play.