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A CurtainUp Review
By Simon Saltzman
Note on New Jersey: The Jersey I know is gravel and cattails. Empty quarter drinks and Buds litter parking lots. A marsh, a highway, bridges. Almost everyone is from somewhere else. And, yes, there's a reason they're not living in New York.
— Comment from the playwright Martyna Majok.
Marin Ireland and Morgan Spector (Photo: Sandra Coudert)
The above note is not the New Jersey I know as a life-long resident. However, the title of Martyna Majok's play refers to the former industrial section of Newark where large and small factories offered employment to low wage immigrants during the 19th and early 20th century. The racial and ethnic diversity of its workers and residents gave it a distinct flavor and character, much of which has remained despite the closing of the factories. Today it is one of the more affluent neighborhoods in Newark and is noted for its primarily Portuguese population. Its many fine and popular restaurants, bakeries and stores now cater to the largely middle-class residents as well as to people who come from all over the state and beyond for dining and shopping.

There was nothing fine, however, about the place in 2014 or the specific location — a desolate bus stop late at night on the outskirts of Elizabeth. It is not far from one of the last of the remaining but now closed ironbound factories where the play's central character Darja (played by the always compelling Marin Ireland) a Polish immigrant used to work. She has since found employment cleaning houses.

The location remains the same even as 42 year-old Darja goes back and forth in time between the present, to 2006 and further in her past. In the present, she is calling it quits with her long-time but philandering boyfriend postal employee Tommy (Morgan Spector) with whom she has been living. The last straw for her is finding out he is sleeping with a wealthy woman whose home she cleans. Not that Darja stealing clothes from the same woman makes her more morally righteous.

Ranting and raving in broken English while also demanding that Tommy compensate her with money to stay with him seems justified to her. This, in the light of Alex (unseen) her incorrigible 22 year-old son having taken off with her car. She also wants the money to go in search of him.

Reduced to taking the bus, she feels embittered by the betrayal but also by the dire financial circumstances that have kept her dependent on Tommy. In flashback to twenty two years earlier we are again at the bus stop but now Darja is in conflict with her first husband Maks (Josiah Bania), a good-looking also Polish immigrant who has been working in a nearby factory but has dreams of going to Chicago to be a harmonica blues player. Despite her being pregnant there is no stopping him.

There is also no stopping the abuse from her second husband (unseen), the manager of the factory where she worked. His abuse has her her wind up bruised and huddled in a pile of rubble at the same bus stop. Here she is befriended by a compassionate hip-hop teenage street hustler Vic (Shiloh Fernandez) before being once again confronted by a remorseful Tommy. The symbolism of the dreary bus stop where Darja waits and waits is clear. Her hard-scrabble life has made her hard, wary of promises and uncertain of her future.

Raised in New Jersey and Chicago, the Polish-born playwright has clearly and profoundly drawn from family experiences and in particular the fate and fortunes of working class women on the lowest rung of society. What saves Ironbound from becoming oppressively depressing is Majok's flair for finding humor in the hubris of her characters. Although much of the play, even at eighty minutes, seems overwritten and often redundant, it ultimately finds its pace under director Daniella Topol.

Ireland, who has never turned in a less than a memorable performance, lashes out in barrages of motor-mouthed vitriol with a Polish accent that are as laughable as they are lacerating. Fernandez, who is making his New York stage debut, is a howl as the teen-age rapping street hustler who is playing hooky from high school. Bania also nails the Polish accent as the restless Maks. Spector is splendid as the cheating lug Tommy.

Just as there is much more to the bus stop created by set and lighting designer Justin Townsend if you look up and notice the trestle that looms over heads, there is more to the story of immigrant women who have survived and prevailed.

Ironbound by Martyna Majok
Directed by Daniella Topol
Cast: Josiah Bania (Maks), Shiloh Fernandez (Vic), Marin Ireland (Darja), Morgan Spector (Tommy)
Scenic & Lighting Design: Justin Townsend
Costume Design: Kaye Voyce
Sound Design: Jane Shaw
Dialect Coach: Charlotte Fleck
Fight Direction: Unkledave's Fight-House
Stage Management: Jaimie Van Dyke
Running Time: 1 hour 20 minutes no intermission
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater & Women's Project Theater, 224 Waverly Place
From: 03/03/16 Opened: 03/16/16 Ends 04/10/16
Tuesday-Thursday at 7pm; Friday and Saturday at 8pm; Saturday & Sunday Matinees at 3pm
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 03/15/16
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