Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

Theatre: Ironbound



Shiloh Fernandez and Marin Ireland in Ironbound. Photo: Sandra Coudert.

Who: Martyna Majok, playwright; Daniella Topol, director
What: Off-Broadway Play
WhereRattlestick Playwrights Theater (co-production with Women’s Project Theater)
When: March 3-April 24, 2016
Why Watch: Polish-American playwright Martyna Majok’s oeuvre focus on economic uncertainty and has been produced/developed at major theatres across the country. Her newest play will be unveiled at the Pipeline Festival in NYC  April 21-23 and her acclaimed Cost of Living will be produced at the Williamstown Theatre Festival June 29-July 10.

“I can’t trust ‘understanding,’ I can’t trust ‘try,'” Darja, a working-class Polish immigrant bristles through gritted teeth to her unfaithful boyfriend. “I can trust $3,000 in my hands.” At a desolate bus stop in Elizabeth, NJ, within spitting distance of notoriously disadvantaged Newark (the title refers to a neighborhood in that city), Darja (Marin Ireland) waits, resignedly, for the same Godot-like bus over the course of 22 years. As time moves backward and forward, Darja transforms into a 22-year-old factory worker, happily married to Maks (Josiah Bania, the playwright’s husband), a musician with his eye on the American Dream; a 32-year-old battered wife (marriage #2) who, encountering a privileged hustler with a heart (the charming Shiloh Fernandez), finds some brief relief; and a weary 42-year-old cleaning woman working for the same rich housewife of New Jersey that her boyfriend Tommy (Morgan Spector, playing thoughtfulness with a rough edge) is screwing. Over the years, the men change, but Darja’s circumstances do not.

Ever pragmatic, Darja doesn’t follow her musician love to Chicago because she already has a job in Jersey. She knows, deep down, that she can’t really count on anyone but herself, but as an female immigrant with no education or connections, she also knows she must in order to make ends meet. It’s a harsh reality reflected in harsh surroundings. With no car, she relies on unreliable public transport that only the most hard-pressed resort to, and it is here, at designer Justin Townsend’s deserted bus stop – dreary lighting barely exposing the desolate gravel underpass scored by Jane Shaw’s gritty, urban soundscape – that we encounter an increasingly world-weary Darja over the unchanging years. Director Daniella Topol guides the heavy proceedings with a light hand and dark sense of humor, but it is the ever excellent Marin Ireland (when is she anything but brilliant?) that grounds the story with a hardened exterior protecting a heart she can’t afford to wear on her sleeve. A raw-edged and nervy Ireland offers us hungry glimpses into Darja’s softer side, but never allows her to indulge any impractical hopeful urges in a powerful performance imbued with desperation, dignity, and disappointment.

Inspired by the experiences of Majok’s mother, Ironbound thoughtfully gives voice to those who rarely make it to our stages: the poor, working class immigrant. It also showcases a vital talent in Majok, who skillfully constructs a portrait of a woman trapped, making tough choices that a more privileged individual could never imagine making. This is a playwright on the rise, and a work not to be missed.

Bechdel TestFAIL

  • Two named women…: No. Darja is the only woman in this four-hander, but every scene revolves around her, and there is much talk of issues other than relationships.
  • Who talk to each other…N/A.
  • About something besides a manN/A

Racial Bechdel Test: FAIL

  • Two named people of color…: No
  • Who talk to each other…: N/A.
  • About something other than a white person: N/A. 
Why the Bechdel Tests?

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