Darja (Marin Ireland) and Tommy (Morgan Spector) are having a heated argument at a bleak, highway bus stop in New Jersey. She’s a volatile Polish immigrant in her early forties with a decided accent (wonderfully executed) who works in a factory and cleaning houses. He’s a slightly younger, loosely wound, American postal worker with a tattoo on his leg.
Tommy is Darja’s third formal liaison after a first husband with whom she came to the states and a second who physically abused her. They’ve been together six years. Twenty-two year-old son, Alex, who has a serious drug addiction, has disappeared from home. The need to find him is eating his mother alive. Though this argument is provoked by that anxiety, it centers on Tommy’s infidelity. He’s been bedding a rich Montclair woman whose house Darja cleans.
Morgan Spector and Marin Ireland
“…What you gotta understand is that people fuck up…if you wanna classify me for one little…” Tommy protests, adding Darja knows he has trouble being alone. (She often works late.) The one little turns out to be at least 14 meetings over several years – and there were other women. She’s figured out his password and tapped his iPhone “There’s an app.”
Rage has blinded neither Darja’s independence nor her survival skills. She wants to know how much money Tommy will give her to stay. He thinks he rescued her. She feels she’s slaving for him and points out that his mistress sees him as a toy. They negotiate. She wants at least enough money for a car. He rationalizes “support,” then withdraws at further vitriol. “Get in the car!” Blackout.
Josiah Bania and Marin Ireland
From here, we open on the bus stop 22 years before. The play unfolds episodically back and forth from past to present. Though it takes a few minutes to get one’s bearing at the first shift in time, the story then flows with clarity. We’re always on the highway between Elizabeth and Newark. Limbo.
Darja and her first husband, Maks (Josiah Bania), are at insurmountable odds about his starry-eyed dream to go to Chicago and play blues. Still suffering from the first uprooting, she wants to stay where they both have jobs and things are secure. They argue about the importance of money above all else. Darja is pregnant, but doesn’t tell her husband. Clearly in love, the couple reluctantly part. Sensitively written and gently enacted.
Shiloh Fernandez and Marin Ireland
We never meet husband number two, formerly Darja’s boss at the factory, but one scene during that marriage finds her huddling against the night cold with a whopper of a black eye afraid to return home. She’s discovered by male prostitute Vic (Shiloh Fernandez), who looks and talks like a street thug, but is, in fact, just the opposite. This parenthesis is like watching Androcles and the Lion. Darja is skittish, suspicious. Vic is sweet and solicitous. Their eventual accommodation to each other is palpably genuine.
Polish to English syntax is pitch perfect. The heroine’s relationships with Maks and Tommy couldn’t be more different, yet both are filled with specifics that make them feel authentic. Darja knows nothing but poverty and struggle. Sometimes she steals a little something from a client. Men have been unreliable, cruel. Life centers around getting through each day and doing what she can for her son. She clearly cares for Tommy, but there’s an acknowledged mutual “using” present as well. They part. Will they reunite…when circumstances change?
This is a tough, tightly written, visceral play, yet it contains both tenderness and humor.
Marin Ireland and Morgan Spector
Morgan Spector (Tommy), as what we used to call a “big lug,” embodies an unworldly innocence that’s no match for the clever Darja. The actor is thoroughly grounded. Blow-ups come from the gut. A passage where he thinks he sees a different future for himself is touching, not cloying.
Josiah Bania plays Maks as a loving man with a dream that simply won’t be denied. Bania both speaks excellent Polish (is he of that nationality?) and plays outstanding mouth organ. Quite a casting feat. He’s unmistakably playful, tender, and resolved.
As Vic, Shiloh Fernandez so completely epitomizes a backstreet gang member, we’re thoroughly surprised when he turns out to be otherwise. Fernandez walks a fine line between the boy’s assumed persona and his sincerity with great finesse.
Marin Ireland is simply wonderful. There isn’t a crack in the fully formed woman she inhabits. Steely, plotting, desperate, proud, stubborn, and at least, at one point, in love, we see her viscerally fighting to endure. Though the experience may be foreign, Ireland offers affecting touch points at every turn.
Direction by Daniella Topol is both pithy and nuanced.
Justin Townsend’s Scenic Design couldn’t be aptly colder or more minimal.
Kaye Voyce’s Costumes add immeasurably to character definition.
Photos by Sandra Coudert
Opening: Marin Ireland
Ironbound by Martyna Majok
Directed by Daniella Topol
Featuring: Josiah Bania, Shiloh Fernandez, Marin Ireland, Morgan Spector
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in Co-Production with Women’s Project Theater
224 Waverly Place
Through April 10, 2016