Written by Martyna Majok
Directed by Daniella Topol
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking.” (Virginia Woolf, “Orlando”)
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” (Virginia Woolf, “A Room of One’s Own”)
Darja (Marin Ireland) has not had a room of her own since she arrived in the United States from Poland with her first husband Maks (Josiah Bania) in 1992: a room she could really call her own. They both work in a factory in Elizabeth, New Jersey and depend on a bus to get them between work and home. Darja becomes pregnant and, after becoming discontent with the factory, Maks wants to make music – in Chicago, not in the Ironbound section of Newark, New Jersey where they have settled. He tells Darja, “People in this country need to know this so I don’t fall from this world like nothing ever happen.” But Darja believes since she followed Maks to The Unites States, “maybe now you follow me. And stay.”
Maks leaves and Darja stays and in Martyna Majok’s brilliant and engaging new play “Ironbound,” Darja’s journey to find herself and her son Aleks spans three decades of bittersweet encounters with men – young and not so young – who she hopes will not object to her thinking as long as she is not thinking of them. The play, currently running at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, begins at the aforementioned bus stop in the present – 2014 – with one of those men Tommy (Morgan Spector) attempting to convince her to stay with him – even marry him – despite his history of philandering infidelity. Darja has managed to tap Tommy’s phone (there’s an app for that) and is aware of his escapades – yet she wants to stay with him because she needs him even more than he needs her.
Between Tommy and Maks, Darja marries the man who owns the factory where she works. He turns out to be a physically abusive husband. In 2006, at the bus station, Darja meets Vic (Shiloh Fernandez) a high school sex worker from a wealthy family who turns tricks with older men hoping to find the sense of home he lacks with his parents. Vic comes closest to being the person who is interested in Darja and what she thinks. This is perhaps the most engaging scene in “Ironbound.” The chemistry between Ms. Ireland and Mr. Fernandez – who makes his New York stage debut with this performance – is remarkable and memorable.
Ultimately, however, Darja – back in 2014 – reconsiders Tommy’s offer to stay with him: sans employment and sans a permanent home, she brokers the best deal she can to protect what is more important to her in the world, her son Aleks, her “kochanie” whom she needs to find and needs a car to find him. She considers Tommy’s offer – even his offer of marriage after learning Maks has died in Chicago – in the hopes she will find Aleks and have Tommy’s insurance to cover her son’s rehab costs. In her appeal to Tommy, she says, “And it’s no guarantee your Blue Cross can do anything but what I can do but try? I am not this kind of person what sits and thinks Why whole the time. He it’s my son. He can do every horrible thing to me and I will look to him and say This is Mine. This is what I have in whole this world what’s mine. You have your love and you give to everybody. This world it have millions peoples like me, millions womens. But is only one me for him. He can’t to throw this away.”
Under Daniella Topol’s impeccable direction, the ensemble cast captures and shares the decision-making process of one woman who has for over three decades sought surcease from life’s seemingly insurmountable challenges. Marin Ireland offers a stunning performance of a woman whose decisions are driven by what matters to her most. “Ironbound” is about the dynamics of decision-making and confirms that what one chooses at any moment is connected to the past and the future and is driven by the commitment not – in Maks words – to “fall from this world like nothing ever happen.” One can claim to “be in the present” but what truly sustains is not just the present but the past and future. Ms. Ireland never leaves the stage and the detritus of 1992 through 2014 remain on stage throughout the performance. Josiah Bania, Shiloh Fernandez, and Morgan Spector deliver a trinity of authentic and believable performances of men who “would like [their] home in [Darja’s] mind to be nice place.”
Justin Townsend’s stark set looms large over Rattlestick’s stage and provides the perfect backdrop – a virtual mindscape really – for Darja’s journey to self-realization and self-empowerment. “Ironbound” is a play not to be missed. It is not the easiest play to watch at times but its challenges are worth every moment of provocative surprise. And it is often quite funny as well. No audience will soon forget the importance of this significant play.