We should empathize with Darja. She’s an immigrant struggling to wrap her mouth around English, both its syntax and pronunciation. She works two jobs, when they’re available. She constantly worries about her son, who needs a stay in rehab that she can’t afford, even if she could find him these days. Indeed, she can’t find any good man who will stay around and treasure her.
But she’s hard to empathize with.
She’s at the center of “Ironbound,” written by Martyna Majok and in its West Coast premiere at Geffen Playhouse through March 4. Majok tells Darja’s story in a series of two-hander scenes, as Majok introduces the audience to some of the men in Darja’s life.
These scenes range from largely annoying to somewhat intriguing. The manner in which Tyne Rafaeli has directed the work, and the manner in which Marin Ireland plays Darja, means the audience hears a lot of yelling. The only upside is Ireland’s low register, so at least her voice isn’t shrill.
Her accent, presumably Polish, is strong, but it remains steady throughout the play. Making Ireland’s depiction even more European are her various facial expressions — unself-conscious grimaces to thrust chin.
But to what theatrical purpose? Too many crucial circumstances and events occur offstage, literally and dramatically.
We’re told she discovered her current live-in, Tommy (Christian Camargo), has been cheating on her with the woman whose house she cleans.
Majok next takes the audience back in time to watch Darja and her then-husband, Maks (Josiah Bania), express regrets over decisions made elsewhere.
Tommy shows up again, heading up and down the theater’s aisle where he leaves his “car” idling (sound design by Leon Rothenberg). Considering a theater the size of the Geffen, one wonders why there isn’t room to keep the action on the stage.
A young black man wanders onto the scene. This young lad, Vic (Marcel Spears), doesn’t seem to belong on the street, though of course most of us don’t always know what puts kids on the street. But he’s articulate, witty, extroverted and relatively jolly. And he’s a teenage hustler who goes to prep school.
Vic seems to finally get from Darja what he’s probably missing at home: a bit of stern but loving discipline and advice. These moments seem to be the closest we get to understanding her, and the closest we get to caring about her.
At the show’s tidy end, Maks has moved on to a probably unsuccessful career in music, Tommy says he’ll commit to a relationship with Darja, and Darja’s son is heard from.
Behind the action is a brick wall, a literal and figurative barrier in Darja’s life. Onstage, it’s bordered by growth that was once tall and strong but is now dried and dead (scenic design by Tim Mackabee). Here is the best and even somewhat poignant depiction of Darja and her life.
Dany Margolies is a Los Angeles-based writer.
Rating: 1 star
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays, through March 4
Where: Gil Cates Theater at Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles
Length: 1 hour, 40 minutes; no intermission
Suitability: Teens and adults
Information: 310-208-5454, www.geffenplayhouse.com
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