Friday, April 06, 2018

Alexandra Tavares is riveting in “Ironbound”

Alexandra Tavares in Ironbound (John Ulman)
Seattle Public Theater
Through April 15, 2018

A bravura performance by Alexandra Tavares anchors a short, intense one-location dramedy about a woman at a New Jersey bus stop. Ironbound, directed by Kelly Kitchens, traps Darja (Tavares) at the only location she can go anywhere from. Darja is usually without a car and this bus stop becomes the symbol of both her way out and her lack of ability to go anywhere.

Darja is a Polish woman who has lived in the States a long time. We meet her at age 42 where she is possibly breaking up with her third major male relationship (she says she’s twice divorced). Tommy (a despicable but weirdly heartbreaking Roy Stanton) has cheated on her throughout their entire seven year relationship, but it’s only now that she lets him know how long she’s tracked his behaviors. He, like the audience, is baffled by this mysterious woman.
Bit by bit, playwright Martyna Majok drips out Darja’s story and we learn about her first love, her husband at age 20, Maks (Arjun Pande), and his love of music and conviction that going to Chicago to pursue music is the most important action he can take. Even as neither of them have anything that looks like it would tie them to New Jersey, Darja somehow can’t leave. And even as Maks learns that Darja is pregnant, Maks somehow can’t stay behind.

And we see her, beaten and dejected at 35, homeless, escaping from her unseen second husband abuser, where a 16 year old Vic (Nathan Brockett) thinks her sleeping body might be a dead one. His offhand sweetness and his casual attitudes toward what seems like his ways of making money, including hooking and possibly selling drugs, belie the serious instability of his own life. Yet, he has heart enough to want to help her and immediately identifies her damage.

There are moments of lightness and humor, especially at the beginning when Tommy tries hard to explain away his cheating behaviors. There are moments of intense sexual energy. Tavares has a loose and playful sexual energy with Pande when she’s young and in love, and a world weariness and a challenging and clear-eyed use of sex to try to control Tommy when she’s older.

It’s a short evening, less than 90 minutes. Darja is such an interesting character that we want to know more. How did she get so stranded in New Jersey? Why can’t she go to Chicago with Maks? How does she find Tommy and what does she “weigh” to choose to have a relationship with him? (She tells Tommy that she has put him on a scale and weighed him to decide if he was worth being with.)

Darja relationship with her son and her experiences as a mother are all implied and only tiny tidbits are dropped about him and what he also has had to contend with. All we know in the beginning is that he is missing and Tommy pretty much hates him and Darja seems to have to choose between Tommy and her son – a torturous choice.

All three men provide solid acting partners to Tavares in their scenes. It’s a wonderfully acted piece. The bleak bus stop (designed by Julia Hayes Welch and starkly lit by Thorn Michaels) is substantial and isolated. Sounds of cars and busses unseen (by Rob Witmer) add to the ambiance.

It’s a story of a woman without power, without wealth, and without any particular path, yet who possesses an uncanny determination to keep living life, no matter what. Majok has given us a look into what so many immigrants in so many dead end situations likely think and feel. And what do you think Darja’s future will be once she leaves that bus stop?

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