- OnStage Chief Los Angeles Theatre Critic
Driving through Los Angeles and seeing a homeless woman resting on a bus bench, I often wonder what’s her story. Everyone has a story, and playwright Martyna Majok wrote about her mother’s experience moving to America in "Ironbound", now at the Geffen Playhouse.
The stage is dressed by Tim Mackabee with a tall street lamp, green astroturf and a wooden bench. Dry weedy reeds line a highway barrier and tall wall. It’s bleak as the lights dim and ominous sounds by Leon Rothenberg set the mood. Once Lap Chi Chu illuminates the character Darja (Marin Ireland) sitting on the bench, we learn about her tumultuous relationship with her postal worker boyfriend Tommy (Christian Camargo). He is a cheater with a thick New Jersey accent, who is “no good at being alone.” He peppers the scene with humor now and then, while we learn about his 7 years of infidelity. Darja is fed up and wants money as a payment to stay with this imperfect man. With this money, she can find her son, an addict who recently took her car and disappeared.
Desperation runs throughout this 80 minute play. Without a car, Darja relies on the bus to get to her jobs. All the scenes are of Darja waiting for a bus that never arrives.
The extremely talented Ireland is familiar with this role. She played this character in New York’s off-Broadway Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. Even though she looks like Elle or Dakota Fanning’s sister, with her straight blonde hair and huge blue eyes, her beauty ages over the span of 20 years with the slump of a shoulder, turn of her head and distinctive mannerisms. We learn about her loss. Loss of leaving her native country, loss of two husbands, loss of a factory job, loss of a home, son and car.
Tyne Rafaeli doesn’t direct the scenes in chronological order, however they are easy to follow, supported by the superb acting.
In the second scene, we see a flirtatious 20 year old Darja, who recently moved to Newark from Poland with her first husband Maks (Josiah Bania). She is full of hope and life, while seeking financial security working two different jobs in a factory and cleaning houses. Sadly, Maks wants to pursue a different dream of being a musician in Chicago, not Newark. Afraid to leave the known, Darja let’s him go, and eventually marries the factory owner, only to discover her second husband’s physically abusive rage.
Heartbreakingly, we see her broken and bruised waiting for a bus, reaching an all time low as she finds a piece of cardboard to sleep on under the bench. Lighting a candle and saying her prayers before lying down, a high school boy Vic (Marcel Spears) notices her and kindly offers food and a hotel room, instead of sleeping on the “Hepatitis ground.” He provides comic relief by humorously rapping during this tragic scene. Vic, also known as “Slick Brick” is a troubled soul. As a teenager attending a private high school, he is involved in illicit behavior. When he insists in giving Darja $100, no strings attached, she refuses at first, but later takes it and gives a motherly hug.
The scene changes to Tommy leaving Darja for another fling, a older Sugar Momma. Learning of her first husband’s death, and her son’s whereabouts, hopefulness creeps into her life.
The final scene has Tommy coming back with flowers and a marriage proposal. Even without a ring, Darja leaves the bench and gets into his car and “probably” moves forward in her life.
Seeing this production illuminates a slice of the American Dream through an immigrant's journey. Currently in these political times, immigrants are being used as bargaining chips. Many like Darja, are hard-working people, not pawns on a political chessboard.
Photo: Chris Whitaker