By Joseph Myers, Theater & Books Editor
What happens when the bus you are waiting for never arrives? This is the reality for Polish immigrant, mother and lover Darja, played by Marin Ireland in the production “Ironbound.” The play spans twenty years all taking place in one location – a bus stop in New Jersey. In a quasi-allusion to Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” Darja stubbornly waits for a bus home that never arrives as her eternal struggle to make it in the United States unfolds.
The play’s non-linear structure successfully uses flashbacks to tell the story of Darja’s desperation to survive through the men both past and present in her life. The play begins in the current moment with an argument between Darja and her current lover, Tommy (Morgan Spector), where it is revealed that he cheated. She is so desperate for financial stability that she agrees to stay with him if he pays her $3000.
This is followed by a flashback to a young, optimistic Darja with her first husband Maks (Josiah) sharing a very passionate exchange, ultimately leading up to Darja revealing that she is pregnant. This scene is incredibly tender and starkly contrasts the hardened, disparaged older Darja.
Tommy then speaks about Darja’s physically abusive second husband, who is never seen, which leads to another flashback and debatably the best scene in the play. Darja is sleeping at the bus stop because she has run away from home to seek refuge from her husband. She is discovered by Vic (Shiloh Fernandez), a seemingly tough white gangster-wannabe, who offers his help, although Darja is too proud to accept.
Initially, this scene and the character of Vic is a tad annoying; at first glance, it appears to be a cheesy attempt to create comic relief through this outlandish stereotypical character and slightly outdated jokes about hip-hop culture played to an audience comprised of people mostly not belonging to that culture. Viewers later learn of Vic’s work as a male prostitute, as well as his feelings of estrangement from his conservative family and isolation from his classmates at school.
Darja and Vic share a beautiful moment of understanding. The initially annoying character experiences a moving character arc, with the help of Fernandez’s portrayal, to create one of the most heartbreakingly touching moments in the play, paralleling Vic’s pain of not feeling accepted with Darja’s pain of longing for a prosperous life.
“Ironbound” gives a beautifully brash and striking portrayal of the difficulty of being an outsider, and more specifically, an immigrant in the United States. The story of perseverance and desperation is painfully heartbreaking, thanks to the raw and evocative performances of the skilled cast and the symbolically bleak set. Still, “Ironbound” offers a glimmer of hope for Darja and all outsiders, reminding us that there is still a chance for a happy ending, even if your bus never arrives.
“Ironbound” was playing at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Pl., until April 24.