Ironbound: Rationing Love

Marin Ireland & Morgan Spector. Photo by Sandra Coudert
Martyna Majok's new play Ironbound slyly lures you in with a well-set snare.  She gets you comfortable watching a couple fight.  The dialogue is funny.  The performances are keen.  Maybe we think we know who these people are.  But what Ironbound remarkably does is unwind one character, Darja, and let us see how she this bruised and defensive woman was made by her life experiences.  Nothing is as simple, straight-forward, or obvious as you think. 

Darja (Marin Ireland) has come from Poland because her husband Maks (Joseph Bania) dreamed of this journey. But somehow two husbands later she finds herself not far from where she began, under an overpass waiting at a bus stop fighting with her boyfriend.  She lives with Tommy (Morgan Spector), a postal worker, and frets over her son Alex who has taken off with her car. She and Tommy have a blow out and it's hard to know where she will land.

The structure of the play with flashbacks gives us insight to how the events of her life have added up to what we see before us. We agonizingly watch her learn her emotional limits and erect the boundaries that she makes for herself.  We also get a glimmer as to why.  There are things she will never say and there are parts of her we cannot know.  But we see how much of Darja's tough facade is built before our eyes.

Marin Ireland, as Darja, gives us all shades of this character's toughness and resolve. We watch the layers of hurt, betrayal, pain, disappointment, abandonment, abuse, work, and work and work add up.  We see her claw her way to America from Poland.  We see her life improve and we see backsliding.  But she has no choice but to press on.  We watch how she survives--because ultimately this is a story of that messy, frustrating, constant battle to just keep living. Yet in that fight, surprisingly, she never stops loving.  However, she rations her love. She keeps it on a shelf, protected from casual jostling.  She takes it out and only looks at it sparingly. 

Majok creates a character who is somehow direct and full of subterfuge. She is desperate and protective of her weaknesses. She is full of contradictions that all add up to sense.  Because of this she cannot help but remind you of people you know--tough people who live between worlds, those who struggle to make ends meet, or those who have always left you a bit puzzled when you meet them because they are here and yet somewhere else at the same time.

The strength of the character is made even more glorious in performance.  Ireland is skittish fury. Her anger has nuanced inflections. It rises and falls with her triumphs and defeats, and her triumphs that are defeats. For all that is revealed in Majok's script, Ireland manages to hold back as well.  She gives Darja an underbelly of the unspoken.  She holds it all in her body.  In one moment, with her back to the audience, she kicks at rocks on the ground.  She says nothing in that moment but the way she holds her body, shielding it from our gaze, and turning inward, it speaks to us.

Morgan Spector is an equal foil.  He walks the line as the schlub who's not perfect but who wants to be better.  He could have easily strayed into overblown caricature but he finds this man's sad reality and plays this not-delicate character with detailed care. 

For the most part the play is a carefully constructed portrait of these characters.  One character who is quite peripheral ends up as more of a catalyst for conversation than a fully-drawn person.  Some of the writing and performance surrounding him are done in quick, broad strokes.  It's not fatal to the play because so much of the rest of the piece is handled with tremendous nuance and care.  But that's why it stands out a bit as not quite as strong as the rest.

Nevertheless, Daniella Topol's direction keeps this material vibrant and grounded--we're in a real place, with real people, and even using flashbacks we do not lose our sense of the corporeal.

The show runs through April 24th at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.  
I attended on a complimentary ticket.