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'Ironbound' - Gritty, Moving Drama

Shiloh Fernandez and Marin Ireland in Ironbound
(©Sandra Coudert)

Playwright Martyna Majok distills a Polish woman's tumultuous and difficult life in America to absorbing effect in the new play Ironbound, which has just opened in at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in a co-production with Women's Project Theater.

Delivered in a series of taut two-character scenes that take place at an almost abandoned bus stop in New Jersey (authentic scenic design by Justin Townsend), the play takes audiences on a bracing journey with this woman, Darja, hopping back and forth through time. There are moments when she is mid-breakup with Tommy, a postal worker and womanizer who is the third man in her life.

At others, theatergoers see the optimism and prickly relationship she shared with Maks, a fellow immigrant who seems to be the love of her life. Audiences never meet the abusive man who Darja married in between her time with Maks and Tommy, but Majok does introduce them to Vic, a teenager—a privileged, wannabe-thug—whom Darja encounters after she has been assaulted by her husband.

Through the course of the episodic play, what audiences come to understand is how Darja, already hardened by an arduous life in her homeland, becomes even more embittered and calculating as both genuine affection—she believes—and the "American Dream" elude her. It's not entirely an unfamiliar tale, but thanks to Majok's crackingly blunt writing, Daniella Topol's detail-rich direction, and a quartet of splendid performances, Ironbound delivers a punch.

At the center of the production is Marin Ireland's ferocious and yet still vulnerable performance as Darja. Never a retiring performer, Ireland embraces Darja's willfulness and anger with passion, never shying away from the woman's hardness and sometimes mean-spiritedness. At the same time, Ireland never loses sight of Darja's innate warmth.

It's a performance of marvelous complexity that's matched by the actors playing the men who pass through Darja's life. As the Polish man who is also the father of Darja's son, Josiah Barnia turns in a decidedly sweet performance. He imbues the character with a dreamy naiveté, which makes it nearly instantly understandable why he and Darja, though in love, are ill-suited for one another.

As Tommy, Morgan Spector brings a wiry and tautly strung energy to the stage, and his presence and performance beautifully complement Ireland's. During the scenes that the two share, as the couple negotiate the terms of their relationship and cope with his myriad infidelities, Spector and Morgan make it abundantly clear why these two are both constitutionally suited for one another and also, in the long run, in for a long, difficult life together.

Playing the most surprising character in the play, Vic, the teenager who has come to the bus stop to meet pals who for a night of weed smoking at a hotel (both of which he'll pay for), Shiloh Fernandez delivers a performance of sensitivity and restraint. This would-be suburban white thug could become a gross caricature of affluent pretenders, but thanks to Fernandez' shrewd work, it's a one that becomes decidedly touching.

The same can be said about Ironbound in its entirety. This gritty and hard-hitting play could very well turn into a tiresome exploration of themes and stereotypes audiences have often encountered. Thanks to director Topol's and the cast's work, though, the play proves decidedly stirring.

---- Andy Propst

Ironbound plays at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (224 Waverly Place). For more information and tickets, visit: rattlestick.org.