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Why is Marin Ireland not yet a household name? Playing the central role of a hard-edged, financially struggling Polish immigrant in Ironbound, the actress is compelling from first minute to last. Stepping into the production during rehearsals after previously announced lead Gina Gershon withdrew due to “creative differences,” Ireland anchors the non-linear drama with an emotional fierceness that inextricably draws you into her character’s plight.
Martyna Majok’s play, receiving its New York premiere in a co-production by Rattlestick Playwrights Theater and Women’s Project Theater, spans 22 years in the life of Darja (Ireland) and takes place entirely at a desolate bus stop in a rundown industrial neighborhood. (Although its title refers to a working-class community in Newark, the play is set in Elizabeth, N.J).
Unfolding in non-chronological fashion, the drama depicts Darja’s encounters with three men: Her first husband Maks (Josiah Bania), a fellow Polish immigrant who dreams of pursuing a musical career in Chicago, confident that he can succeed because he’s “beautiful”; Vic (Shiloh Fernandez), a young street hustler who offers Darja solace when she flees her abusive second husband; and mailman Tommy (Morgan Spector), her current boyfriend, who has an unfortunate tendency to cheat on her, most recently with the rich woman for whom Darja works as a maid.
The play begins in the present day with an encounter between Tommy and the 42-year-old Darja, who’s distraught after her 22-year-old, drug-addicted son has taken her car and disappeared. She asks Tommy for money so that she can search for him. He, meanwhile, begs her forgiveness for his most recent betrayal and promises to try to be more “understanding.”
“I can’t trust ‘understanding,’ I can’t trust ‘try,'” she hisses. “I can trust $3,000 in my hands.”
Darja, who used to work in the factory located not far from the bus stop, has been beaten down by life, struggling to survive in an economy where “even the ugly jobs, they don’t have no more.” But her strength and determination are palpable in Ireland’s superb performance, which conveys both humor and ferocity. She’s wickedly sexy as well, oozing sultriness with the simple promise, “I can make pasta.” And her Polish accent, at least to these untrained ears, is unerringly spot-on and maintained throughout (kudos to dialect coach Charlotte Fleck).
The lack of a sustained narrative makes the play drag at times. But its slower patches are compensated for by some genuinely moving moments, such as when Vic offers much-needed comfort to the battered Darja and Tommy delivers an awkward but heartfelt marriage proposal with the aid of a Bruce Springsteen song.
Director Daniella Topol reveals an authentic feel for the play’s gritty milieu, and the male actors make vivid impressions in their smaller roles. But it’s Ireland who’s the standout of the production, demonstrating for the second time this season (she recently starred in LCT3’s Kill Floor) that she’s become one of our most invaluable stage performers.
Venue: Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, New York
Cast: Josiah Bania, Shiloh Fernandez, Marin Ireland, Morgan Spector
Playwright: Martyna Majok
Director: Daniella Topol
Set and lighting designer: Justin Townsend
Costume designer: Kate Voyce
Sound designer: Jane Shaw
Presented by Rattlestick Playwrights Theater and Women’s Project Theater
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