“Ironbound” shows its audience the futility of waiting for something that may never come in humorous and often devastating ways.
Running Jan. 30 through March 4 at the Geffen Playhouse, “Ironbound” depicts the struggles of Polish immigrant Darja (Marin Ireland) during the 22 years of her life in America. The play focuses on three distinct periods of her life: Darja as a coy yet troubled middle-aged woman; as a teenager with dreams of a life beyond counting pocket change; and as a young woman battered in equal measure by her life and an unnamed second husband. The play deftly weaves together themes of poverty, love and mobility, most notably through the motif of a bus that never seems to be on time.
“Ironbound” opens with Darja and Tommy (Christian Camargo) – a flirtatious mailman – sitting on a bus stop bench highlighted by the fading light of the sun and a single streetlight. The backdrop is simple but effective, and doesn’t change much throughout the course of the play. Sparse weeds line what appears to be a highway barrier, and the floor is lined with dirt, gravel and what one character later refers to as “hepatitis ground.”
As the characters argue, they hold absolutely nothing back – their retorts are layered with a sense of irony and jadedness that would be unbearable had they not also been gut-wrenchingly hilarious. In one scene, Darja admits with cloying sweetness she has burned all the belongings of a woman Tommy is seeing, only for him to ask why she didn’t sell them on eBay instead.
After living together for six or seven years with an ambiguous partnership status, Darja cajoles an unwilling Tommy to give her money to search for her son Alex, who ran away with her car and has been missing for three days. As a result, Darja is forced to wait for the bus to attend work, despite Tommy insisting she ride in his car. Subsequent scenes with Tommy reveal his womanizing habits, which Darja uncovers by tapping his phone, further disillusioning herself and destroying her trust in him. The tension builds but never spills over as the cushion of humor prevents their relationship from seeming downright dysfunctional.
The next scene shifts dramatically both in tone and setting. The streetlight brightens and glows, much like Darja as she is transported back to the glory of her youth. She is accompanied by Maks (Josiah Bania), her strapping, Polish love interest, and her first husband. Maks has dreams of traveling to Chicago and making it big as a musician. To the audience’s delight, he gives an impassioned performance of a short, silly song, accompanied by his harmonica.
The younger Darja has smaller dreams yet grandiose demands, desiring fancy dresses and a house; she works in a dingy factory across the street, but does not hold the same lust for travel as her bright-eyed husband. She is content with her place, but perhaps not her place in society, revealed by her laments that people can tell she is impoverished even when she wears the lavish clothes she stole from her decrepit employer.
In the same scene, Darja reveals to Maks that she is pregnant with his child while they wait for the bus. In an off-kilter twist, Maks has little reaction to her announcement. The sweet innocence that characterizes their relationship makes it difficult to believe that Maks would react so coldly to Darja’s news, especially with the brazen decision that Maks makes later in the play.
Playwright Martyna Majok cleverly combines the main themes of the play by conflating love with money, emphasizing the difficult life Darja leads. In her youth, Darja is impoverished but truly believes poverty is a temporary state, reflected in the idealistic love she finds in Maks. Later, as she finally accepts that poverty is permanently steeped in conditions outside of her control, she blithely accepts Tommy’s casual yet cheesy marriage proposal, despite his lack of a ring.
In the play’s final moments, Darja responds to Tommy’s proposal with a solid “Probably.” Still, she wears a small, hopeful smile in the closing scene as she runs to Tommy’s car. At long last, she does not have to wait for the bus.