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Theatre Exile
in association with the
Polish Cultural Institute

by Witold Gombrowicz

Wednesday, May 15, 2002 - Sunday, June 2, 2002
Previews May 15 and 16, 8PM
Opening Night May 17, 8PM

St. Stephen's Theatre
Tenth and Ludlow Streets, Philadelphia, PA
Tickets: $15 -$20, Tel: 215.922.4462, or

Premiere of the first professional production on the East Coast of Gombrowicz's first play, MI>Ivona, The Princess of Burgundia

Princess Ivona was written in 1938 by renowned Polish novelist, playwright and thinker, Witold Gombrowicz, hailed as the "grandfather" of the Theater of the Absurd established later by Beckett and Ionesco. Princess Ivona is an unpredictable fairytale that revolves around the tragicomic courtship of the sickly and all but mute commoner Ivona by the fashionable Prince Philip, the restless and rebellious heir apparent to a self-obsessed, conservative court. Ivona's quietly intrusive presence disrupts the court so profoundly that each member, including the Prince, resolves to plot her death. Gombrowicz's first and most famous play is considered a modern European classic, and has been produced in over thirty countries since the1960s, including two stagings by Ingmar Bergman (in Germany and Sweden) and one by the Comedie Francaise in Paris. But it has only recently been professionally produced in English in the UK, US, and Canada.

Theatre Exile was founded in 1997 by long-time Philadelphia actor and director Joe Canuso as a forum for local talent, an initiative which, in the course of increasingly successful seasons, has presented six world premieres of work by local playwrights, and developed an innovative approach to staging that has included several site-specific productions. Mr. Canuso, who joins the cast of Princess Ivona, serves as Artistic Director of Theatre Exile jointly with David Disbrow, who has directed this production following the success of his staging for Theatre Exile last year of Ionesco's Rinoceros. Another member of the team, as dramaturg, is Allen Kuharski, director of Theatre Studies at Swarthmore and co-director of the college's semester-abroad program in Poland (in theatre and dance), who is considered the leading authority in the U.S. on Gombrowicz's theatre. He has described Gombrowicz as "Poland's counterpart to Jean Genet, but with Joe Orton's sense of humor."

Kuharski points out that Gombrowicz is "a rare example of a playwright whose theatrical career was launched by the success of his works in foreign countries and translations& What is exciting about Princess Ivona is that you can see how his writing anticipates the later existentialist and absurdist playwrights in France and elsewhere, but ultimately stands apart from any other playwright's work."

"What attracts me to Gombrowicz?" asks director David Disbrow. "His perceptive and idiosyncratic sense of social behavior. Human weakness is illuminated in Gombrowicz's work in a manner I find deeply moving in its melancholy - and often quite funny."

Witold Gombrowicz (1904-1969) is recognized by international theatre artists and scholars as one of the 20th century's greatest playwrights. Milan Kundera has called Witold Gombrowicz "one of the great novelists of our century". In his History of Polish Literature, Czeslaw Milosz describes how Gombrowicz abandoned a budding legal career when "some crazy short stories" were published in 1933. "No less crazy were his novel Ferdydurke (1938) and his play Yvonne, Princess of Burgundy (1938). If we have employed the word 'crazy', it is because Gombrowicz exhilarated the public with his buffoonery. In fact, he proceeded by a game of constant provocation, cornering the reader into an admission of unpalatable truths. Of a philosophical mind, but completely free from any respect for the sort of philosophy taught in universities, he had no reverence whatsoever for literature. He derided it as a snobbish ritual, and if he practiced it, he attempted to get rid of all its accepted rules."

With biting humor Gombrowicz attacked the restrictions of social convention, his work often rankling the establishment with irreverent, dissident views, homoerotic subtext, and scatological humor. Under the Communists, much of his work - novels, plays, and diaries written mostly during self-imposed exile in Argentina from 1939 and later in France - could not be published in Poland for decades, nor his plays performed until the mid-1970s. But his work has been translated into more than 30 languages, and over the past 10 years, long after his death in 1969, Gombrowicz's work has enjoyed newfound popularity internationally. Most recently an internationally acclaimed adaptation by the Polish theater company Teatr Provizorium & KompaniaTeatr of his novel, Ferdydurke, based on a new award-winning English translation, was a winner at the 2001 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and a big hit at New York's La MaMa E.T.C.

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