During the summer, the Artistic Director of Moxie Theatre, Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, stepped down as the leader of the award-winning venue. Following her departure, the co-founder and Associate Artistic Director, Jennifer Eve Thorn, took over Sonnenberg’s position.
Judging by the high quality on display in Thorn’s production of the San Diego regional premiere of Ironbound, the company seems to be in good hands.
Set primarily in the earlier part of this decade, a Polish immigrant, Darja (Jacque Wilke), struggles to maintain a positive relationship with her mailman boyfriend Tommy (Eric Casalini) in Elizabeth, New Jersey. When she confronts him about his infidelity, the factory worker and maid demands money so that she can reunite with her son, Alex.
As the central drama with Tommy plays out at a bus stop, the plot jumps back to earlier pivotal moments in Darja’s life at the same location. Audiences see Darja interact with her loving first husband, Maks (Arusi Santi) and a drug dealer/male prostitute with a moral code, Vic(Carter Piggee).
Narrative isn’t really the focus of Martyna Majok’s dramatic and darkly comedic script. Instead, Majok’s intent is to let audiences get to know Darja over the span of 80 minutes.
Wilke believably conveys Darja’s shifts in personality in in each of the plot timelines. She goes back and forth between a younger optimistic wife in a loving relationship to a middle-aged woman angry that her hopes and dreams are destined to be destroyed. Understated and compassionate, her performance feels authentic in the way she plays a worker desperately trying to get by in life.
While Santi and Piggee are instantly impactful in their extended cameos, it’s Casalini who is given the most amount of stage time, aside from Wilke.
Majok and Casalini do not force theatregoers to either like or hate the self-centered postal worker. Casalilni doesn’t soften Tommy’s harsh treatment of Darja, but he also shows moments of generosity and warmth.
Thorn gets the most out of her ensemble and, along with the crew, she creates a vivid depiction of an unglamorous side of New Jersey. Although Thorn creates an environment that doesn’t feel separated from reality, she stages trance-like scene changes that give brief glimpses into the ordinary moments in Darja’s world.
Divya Murthy Kumar’s seedy set, Haley Wolf’s city-themed audio and Alex Crocker’s nighttime lighting develop a tough representation of the town of Elizabeth. Darja wants to move up in the world, yet fate and poor choices keep her from achieving personal goals.
Some people may gripe that conflicts for Darja never seem to end in Ironbound. However, that actually works to Majok’s advantage. Too many poor individuals, in situations similar to that of Darja, can’t ever seem to catch a break, which is something the playwright doesn’t shy away from.
The darkest material involving drugs and violence are implied and referenced in dialogue rather than being shown graphically onstage. Majok and Thorn handle these bleaker moments very sensitively and the evening never veers towards exploitation.
What helps Darja’s trials from being unbearably depressing is the use of humor. Even when situations are dire, she is able to still be a witty and funny heroine.
Majok’s protagonist may evoke some sympathy, but she isn’t a saint. Not afraid to speak her mind, Darja’s temper leads to problems, and a few of her actions are self-serving. However, despite her flaws, she wants to grow as an individual.
Her decision to keep on moving forward, no matter what obstacles she faces, fuels the more emotional moments throughout the interpretation.
Starting off Moxie’s thirteenth season, Ironbound successfully starts a new chapter for the Rolando group. What might be the biggest praise that can be given towards Majok’s play is that her tale always feels real.