Marin Ireland is an absolute marvel in Ironbound, an otherwise relatively standard play by Polish-born playwright Martyna Majok that gets a terrific staging at the Rattlestick by director Daniella Topol. Tony and Independent Spirit Award nominee Ireland is onstage for all eighty minutes as Darja, a cleaning woman who can’t find success and happiness in her life. Darja spends the entire play at a shoddy bus stop across the street from a New Jersey factory where she used to work before it closed, assuring that the American dream will remain just out of her reach. The story shifts back and forth between 1992, when Darja is with her first husband and true love, Maks (Josiah Bania), a fellow Eastern European immigrant who is determined to become a blues musician in Chicago; 2006, when she meets Vic (Shiloh Fernandez), a young drug dealer; and 2014, as she argues with longtime boyfriend Tommy (Morgan Spector) over their future and what to do about Darja’s son, who has disappeared. The focus is primarily on the present, as Darja, now a cynical self-preservationist, confronts Tommy about his extramarital activities. When he tries to calm her down, she barks at him, “We are not having nice conversation now. The past. Memories. No.” She might give the impression that she’s in charge, but there’s an underlying fear and desperation that makes her more vulnerable than she wants to reveal. “I am forty-two years old, married-twice-already woman: I have no time for stupid. So I weigh you on scale. Okay?” she tells Tommy, but it’s clear that she’s losing control.
The set, by lighting designer Justin Townsend (Here Lies Love, The Other Place), features a lone bench in front of a murky, creepy bus shelter strewn with gravel and garbage. Overhead, stretching the length of the theater front to back, hang five enormous, riveted steel beams (actually painted wood) that make the audience feel as if it is waiting for the bus with Darja, huddled underneath a trestle. You can’t take your eyes off Ireland (Reasons to Be Pretty, Glass Chin, Marie Antoinette), whose every physical movement and glare speaks volumes. The rest of the cast play their roles well, but their characters and tales are nowhere near as interesting and compelling as Darja’s, and they become somewhat quaint and repetitive as the show goes on and overdoes the obvious distinctions between rich and poor. Director Daniella Topol (Charles Ives Take Me Home, Lascivious Something) keeps the attention firmly on Darja, where it belongs, letting Ireland do what she does best. Ironbound, which premiered in the fall of 2015 at the Round Theatre in Washington, DC (with Bania and three different actors), is a presentation of the Women’s Project Theater, which is “dedicated to developing, producing and promoting the work of female theater artists at every stage in their careers.”