Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Aug 31 – Sep 15, 2018
Playwright: Martyna Majok
Director: Alastair Clark
Cast: Abe Mitchell, Ryan Morgan, Gabrielle Scawthorn, Benedict Wall
Images by Jasmin Simmons
We see Darja at different periods of her life, but whether she is in her twenties, thirties or forties, poverty remains the central defining feature of her misfortunes. Scenes in Martyna Majok’s Ironbound take place at a New Jersey bus stop, where Darja is always hoping to go somewhere, but never does. Between working two jobs, and relying on a series of men for help, her situation refuses to improve, no matter how much she tries.
Majok’s play presents the American Dream as a lie, arguing against the notion that hard work alone is the key to salvation. Darja is a female Polish immigrant, thoroughly disadvantaged, and seen by society to be no more than a worker ant. She has only her hopes and dreams to cling to, unaware that those who have sold her those aspirations, are also the very ones who stand to benefit greatest from her destitution. All she does is work for the man, and all the man wants, is to keep things unchanged.
Even though socially pertinent, Ironbound is not necessarily a story with universal appeal. It dispenses valuable information, but is also inevitably dreary. Director Alastair Clark has the unenviable task of making entertainment from experiences of poverty, which is difficult as well as being morally precarious, but he negotiates those lines well, for an engaging show that always has its heart in the right place.
Leading a very strong cast is Gabrielle Scawthorn, immensely authentic in the role of Darja, with a portrayal of desperation that is deeply thought-provoking. We do respond to her story with a level of pity, but it is ultimately the wider questions being raised that stay with us thereafter. Benedict Wall brings a surprising complexity to love interest Tommy, facilitating profound contemplation about the meaning of love, in this age of advanced capitalism. Darja’s first husband Maks is played by Abe Mitchell, an endearing presence with a wonderfully dynamic approach, signalling the end of innocence in the Western world. The young and privileged Vic is brought to exuberant life by Ryan Morgan, charming and humorous, in his depictions of our systemic injustices.
We want Darja’s suffering to end, but Ironbound refuses to sugar-coat any of its truths. She fights tooth and nail for a good life, but the world is determined to keep her down. It is a story about people who never stood a chance, and the lies we are fed to sustain the inhumane status quo of our calamitous inequities. Education and knowledge, and therefore art, can help set us free, that is true, but it is unlikely that the likes of Darja will ever get to see a work of theatre like this.