Reviewed by Terry Morgan
Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse
Through March 4
In my experience, when a production is of mixed or bad quality, the acting is rarely to blame. Occasionally an ill-judged performance will mar a fine piece of writing, but it is much more common to watch a talented ensemble struggle with an undercooked play. So it is with Martyna Majok’s Ironbound, which uneasily blends some strong scenes and detailed characters with unbelievable motivations and major story gaps. And yet, the acting in the Geffen Playhouse production is of such a high caliber that I’d still recommend the show.
The story jumps back and forth in time over the course of 22 years on a bus stop bench in New Jersey, as Polish immigrant Darja (Marin Ireland) struggles with the difficulties of her life. Initially traveling to America with her husband Maks (Josiah Bania), who wants to pursue his dreams of being a blues harmonica player in Chicago, Darja soon finds herself raising a son alone, while working at a factory and cleaning houses to make ends meet. She puts some of her hopes into her romantic relationship with postal worker Tommy (Christian Camargo), but his constant infidelity threatens to put her carefully constructed plans of survival at risk.
Ireland is very good as the outwardly tough but inwardly fearful Darja. Her give-and-take with Camargo is bracing and rudely funny, and yet in another scene, where she’s begging on her knees, she’s devastating in her desperation. It’s a powerful lived-in performance that’s not easily forgotten. Camargo is hilarious as the morally dubious Tommy, expert and energetic as a guy who’s a villain one moment and a hero the next. Bania does nice work as the frustrated Maks, who represents Darja’s early hopes. Finally, Marcel Spears is wonderful as kind passerby Vic, doing beautiful work with Ireland in what amounts to a perfect little one-act in the middle of the play.
Director Tyne Rafaeli gets terrific acting from her ensemble, but perhaps is most impressive in the skill with which she cleanly delineates each time period, making sure that the roving timeline is never confusing. Majok is clearly a talented writer sharing a story that is close to her heart, and overall this is an emotionally affecting piece. However, she undercuts Darja’s characterization as a strictly practical person in frankly flabbergasting ways on a couple of occasions. On top of this, there are a couple of major characters who are only spoken of and never seen, which makes the story feel incomplete.
Even with these problems, however, Ironbound is a strong and memorable production that deserves to be seen.
Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles; www.geffenplayhouse.org; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.; through March 4. Running time: approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes with no intermission.