Review: 'Ironbound' a Darkly Funny, Compelling Examination of an Immigrant Woman's Experiences

by Will Demers

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday March 21, 2022

Donnla Hughes and Gunnar Manchester in "Ironbound"
Donnla Hughes and Gunnar Manchester in "Ironbound"  

Polish-born playwright Martyna Majok came to this country as a child and has already won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2018 for her play "Cost of Living." As the daughter of a house cleaner growing up in New Jersey, Majok started her career as an actress before realizing that she'd rather write plays than perform in them. Her mother, who learned English after arriving here, worked several jobs to raise her family, and it is through these experiences she created the story of this four-character play. 

"Ironbound" — named for the Newark, New Jersey neighborhood surrounded by railroad tracks — is Majok's breakthrough play, about an immigrant woman from Poland who finds that her existence is all hard work, personal difficulties, and family tragedies. Over the course of a twenty-two year span, she reflects on her relationships with men and the jobs that she must keep to survive and live comfortably. The play is set at a bus stop (a literal crossroads of her life experiences), where Darja (Donnla Hughes) finally confronts her boyfriend Tommy (Steve Kidd) about his other relationships with women. 

Tommy has been seeing Darja's wealthy employer on the side.

And this was not the only instance; she is knows his cell phone's passcode and regularly checks his messages, only to find that his infidelity has been going on for some time. He's defiant, and she's ready to leave him; trouble is, she's gotten herself fired and the rich employer has told other women in the community that Darja did something unprofessional, which has damaged her reputation. No work, no car, and no home if Tommy throws her out. 

Majok flashes back to Darja's first encounter with a man in America, Maks (Gunnar Manchester), a drifter who's also an immigrant. He wants to be a musician, but she wants to settle down with him and raise a family. Clearly they love each other, but he isn't about to stay in New Jersey and soon is off to Chicago. Jumping forward to another situation where she's battered by her boss and thrown out into the streets, Darja meets Vic (Rodney Witherspoon II), a rich high school student selling himself because his own home life is intolerable. 

Majok's characters are well fleshed out and vividly portrayed under Rachel Walshe's competent direction. Our protagonist is angry, hurt, and desperate; Hughes sells all of Darja's history in an expressive and heartbreaking performance. She has a number of credits both domestically and internationally, and previously appeared in Gamm's "A Lie Agreed Upon." Witherspoon is a newcomer to this theater, but not to Trinity and Wilbury; he is excellent here. Gunnar Manchester, last seen in Trinity's "Tiny Beautiful Things," gives an inspired performance. 

Steve Kidd, whose past roles at this theater are too long to list, is, as always, fascinating to watch as the cheating boyfriend, and rounds out this phenomenal cast. Majok's darkly funny and almost terrifying examination of immigrant women's marginalization is at times difficult to watch, but it's clear to see her origins in the characters and situations. The ninety minute show is performed without an intermission, and is most definitely one to watch; you'll not be able to look away for a second. 

"Ironbound" runs through April 10th at The Gamm Theatre, 1245 Jefferson Boulevard, Warwick, RI 02886. Patrons must present either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test before entry. Masks are required for all patrons while in the venue. For information or tickets call 401-723-4266 or visit www.gammtheatre.org.