Darja is a Polish immigrant working in a factory in Elizabeth, New Jersey. As Ironbound opens we find her arguing with her husband Tommy at a bus stop. There is a weather-beaten bench, torn posters, rough sand, broken glass, cigarette butts. The entire drama takes place at this desolate milieu, blown out and unforgiving. Darja is middle-aged, persevering, disillusioned. As she negotiates her connection to three different men, we get a sense of where her values lie, what she must do to survive, how she must be open to change. Tommy is unfaithful, another husband, Maks, is charming but violent, and a young man who helps her after she’s been beaten, Vic, is either a male prostitute, drug dealer, or both. Consistently her assumptions are challenged. Consistently she must re-evaluate.
Ironbound is simple in appearance. A gritty narrative depicting the struggles of working-class immigrants whose command of English leaves much to be desired, to subsist and find romantic companionship. But that appearance is deceptive. The longer and closer we watch, the more clearly we see that Darja’s problems are the same as anyone else’s. The disappointments, compromises, exhaustion, abuse. The trade-offs and constant need to navigate ordeals and changing circumstances. Painfully, doggedly rising every time we fall. Accepting help when independence is so crucial. Playwright Martyna Majok’s understated, ironic approach saves this play from melodrama, and ingeniously, explores the failure of The American Dream, from the eyes of those who come here to thrive and know some relief.
Most of the characters speak a kind of broken/pidgin English, and again, Majok surprises us. Though their command of speaking lacks facility and nuance, it actually explicates content. It’s amazing how much we can infer from such sparse conversation. Though we know their diction is unsophisticated, it clarifies the truth of the situation, with lyricism and grace. As the show evolves, the dialogues achieves a kind of poetry. Majok creates virtue and steps that come closer to actual meaning by using less polished English as a tool. There’s something surprisingly poignant happening when Maks sings a nightclub tune with the bravado and optimism of a striver who refuses to forfeit hope. Kitchen Dog Theater continues to find exquisite, daring, beguiling and profoundly touching shows that are quietly overwhelming and subversively resonant.
Kitchen Dog Theater presents Ironbound, playing October 26th-November 12th, 2017. 2600 North Stemmons Fwy #180, Dallas, Texas 75207. (214) 953-1055. www.kitchendogtheater.org