The Women’s Voices Theater Festival continues to smash our perceptions of “lady theater” with the full-throated Ironbound by Martyna Majok, which amounts to 90 minutes of blistering goodness.
Beginning with Majok’s smart, jabbing play about one woman’s survival, Round House Theatre’s production, assuredly directed by Daniella Topol, gets all the elements right. James Kronzer’s scenic design sets the gritty tone with a grid of towering, rusty steel girders tented over a lonely New Jersey bus stop illuminated by a single, harsh street light.
Tires clump around the base of the girders and you hear traffic roaring overhead, but beyond this urban tableau there is nothing but blackness.
In this hard setting, we meet Darja (Alexandra Henrikson), a tall, slight woman who emigrated from Poland as a teenager. Ironbound moves between the present day, 1992 and 2006, but one thing remains constant—Darja waits for a bus that never seems to arrive.
Amid this self-created limbo, we watch men come and go in Darja’s life and the changing landscape around her that further narrows her choices. A factory that once offered her security and a livelihood shuts down and later becomes a shelter when she becomes homeless after domestic violence. The railroads and their promise of travel and escape give way to a tangle of highways and ever-increasing noise.
Even the wooden bench at the bus stop takes on different meanings. In 1992, it is a place for giddy newlyweds Maks (Josiah Bania, the embodiment of youthful, crazy charisma) and Darja to canoodle and blurt out their dreams—American dreams of a better job, car, home and for the young and self-admittedly “beautiful” Maks, playing and singing Chicago blues in Polish. Why not? At that point, anything is possible.
The bench becomes a hiding place for Darja in 2006 after she flees from her abusive second husband, where she meets Vic (William Vaughan, cannily magnetic as Darja’s fellow pragmatist), a gay b-boy hustler and unlikely savior. In the present time, the bench is a way-station, her special place to go and think things out—as well as talk them out with her boyfriend Tommy (Jefferson A. Russell), a cheater and smooth operator.
The scenes with Darja and Tommy are especially explosive, Majok’s battering-ram dialogue creating staccato energy and harsh poetry as the pair confront and hammer out a relationship that isn’t perfect by any means, but good enough for two people used to very little. Henrikson’s Darja magnificently whips between playful revenge, street smarts, and resoluteness while Russell’s Tommy powerfully pleads the case of a fairly-goodhearted, but flawed, guy who makes stupid choices out of never wanting to be lonely.
Part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival
September 9 – October 4
Round House Theatre
4545 East-West Highway
1 hour, 30 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $30 – $45
It’s interesting to gauge the reactions to the character of Darja. “Boy, Darja brought all this on herself,” said one man to his female companion as they left the theater. “She is such a hard-head.” The woman, wisely, nodded noncommittally.
Women seem to see Darja differently—as a serial survivor who is stubbornly loyal to only two things—her choices and her adult son, an addict. Everything is commerce to her, a way to strike deals—whether it is love, money, employment or even her refusal to accept any kind of charity.
Like the title of the play, Darja is as strong as iron, but also imprisoned by this rigidity. Which makes you wonder about the consequences of only pursuing low-hanging fruit. Even sitting in a crappy bus stop, you see the festering potential of Darja and women like her—women who settle in every aspect of their lives. Is that the result of being without dreams or ideals, the price a woman pays for never thinking beyond survival?
Ironbound by Martyna Majok . Directed by Daniella Topol . Featuring Alexandra Henrikson, Jefferson A. Russell, Josiah Bania and William Gaughan . Scenic Design: James Kronzer . Costume Design: Kathleen C. Geldard . Co-Lighting Design: Andrew R. Cissna and Brian Macdevitt . Sound Design/Composer: Eric Shimelonis . Props Master: Kasey Hendricks . Fight Choreograher: Casey Kaleba . Dialects: Lynn Watson . Dramaturg: Jessica Pearson . Assistant Director: Gabrielle Hoyt . Stage Manager: Bekah Wachenfeld . Produced by Round House Theatre . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.