By Yuko Kurahashi
Moxie Theatre is staging its first production the 2017-2018 season, Martyna Majok’s “Ironbound.” Directed by Jennifer Eve Thorn, “Ironbound” is a story about a Polish immigrant woman “for whom love is a luxury and a liability as she fights to survive in America,” as described in the program.
Set at a bus stop at night in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Jacque Wilke portrays the life of Darja from 1992 — shortly after she emigrated to the United States with her first husband Maks (Arusi Santi) — until 2014, when she deals with her unfaithful boyfriend Tommy (Eric Casalini), a letter carrier.
Using 2014 as a jumping-off point, the play’s narrative goes switches between defining moments in Darja’s relationships with her two husbands (only her first husband appears on stage), her son (who never appears on stage) and Tommy, her current boyfriend. Vic (Carter Piggee), a high school kid, who finds Darja at the bus stop after she has been beaten by her second husband, acts as a Good Samaritan.
The play explores Darja’s problems, challenges, and emotions. She wants a relationship that will allow her to survive the hardships of life and escape poverty. Yet, each of her practical relationships have led to the painful divorces, abuses, and betrayals.
“Ironbound” underscores the vulnerability beneath Darja’s hard and outspoken exterior. Wilke succeeds at showing the shift between the two by changing facial expressions and postures. Through the use of a winter jacket, the presence (or lack thereof) of a bruise to her face, and a change of her hair, Darja repeatedly transforms from a vivacious to haggard middle-age woman.
Playing Darja’s current unfaithful boyfriend with whom she lives, Casalini shows his character’s narcissism and weakness, while simultaneously revealing a hopeless romanticism and good heart. Arusi Santi portrays Maks, Darja’s first husband as a young, hard-working Polish immigrant who brought Darja to the United States, fathered her son and then abandoned her to pursue a fantasy. Both Wilke and Santi’s Polish accents are believable and charming, constantly reminding us of their immigrant status. Carter Piggee, as Vic, is funny, entertaining, and genuine, and tries through with humor to help the “battered woman from Russia.”
The dark, depleted, and cold bus stop represents Darja’s life. This realistic and also metaphorical place is designed by Divya Murthy Kumar who transformed the Moxie Theatre stage into a dimly lit transit stop with a back wall of graffiti, chain link fences, tires, garbage bags and a trash can (which doubles as storage for Wilke’s makeup items and clothes).
Lighting designer Alex Crocker’s chose amber and blue hues, which not only add to the atmosphere but also serve to emphasize the emotional states of the characters. Sound designer Haley Wolf created subtle buzz sounds for the old electric bulletin board at the bus stop, which amplifies the dilapidated scene. The sound of distorted wind chimes at the end of the show resonates with Darja’s future of hope and challenges.
Born in Bytom, Poland and raised in New Jersey and Chicago, Martyna Majok’s work has been developed and produced at regional theatres and in New York City. “Ironbound” was developed at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago in 2014. It premiered at Round House Theatre in (Bethesda, Maryland) as part of the Women’s Voice Theater Festival, and has also been performed internationally at the Q44 Theatre in Melbourne, Australia.
“Ironbound” runs through Oct. 22, 2017.