A dark cloud may seem to follow Polish immigrant Darja across New Jersey, but that doesn’t stop Marin Ireland from lighting up the stage like nobody’s business in the West Coast Premiere of Martyna Majok’s astringently funny, surprisingly affecting Ironbound, now getting a superb West Coast Premiere with its original off-Broadway leading lady joining it for its five-week visit to L.A.

 42 and flailing, housecleaner-to-the-rich Darja is a twice-married single mom with a rebellious, currently AWOL son she adores, a philandering boyfriend she puts up with (though perhaps for not much longer), and memories of the handsome young Pole whom she followed to America (and then married) and of the hoody-sporting high schooler who offered her a bit of human kindness one chilly fall night when she was at her lowest.

 Zigzagging back and forth in time in a series of two-person scenes, each with Ireland as its undisputed star, Ironbound earns its title from its hapless heroine’s ironbound will to forge on, scores its multitude of laughs from an immigrant’s dry sense of humor that somehow manages to survive translation into thickly accented, grammatically unsound English, and discovers its poignancy in its characters’ resolutely beating hearts, Darja’s in particular.

 Polish-born, New Jersey-raised playwright Majok writes with the authenticity of someone who knows her protagonist’s native land, language, and culture as well as she does the Jersey that Darja has called home these past twenty-two years, doubtless channeling family members’ imperfect English to give her fictional heroine’s ESL an equal ring of truth.

 Ireland’s pitch-perfect rendition of Darya’s Slavic accent and syntax (spoken in gravelly, couldn’t-care-less tones that belie the Ventura-county native’s sunny blonde beauty even in working-class Jersey drab) is just one reason to fall madly in love with the reasons to be pretty Tony nominee’s absolutely captivating performance. Add to that a razor-sharp way with a caustic dig and the ability to convey decades of hurt and oceans of maternal love in the subtlest of ways, and you’ve got a performance whose splendor alone is worth a trip to the Geffen.

 As for the men in Darya’s life, Ireland could not be blessed with a finer trio of bicoastal talents performing under Tyne Rafaeli’s rich, incisive direction, from her off-Broadway costar Josiah Bania’s sweetly endearing Maks to Christian Camargo’s electrifying, unexpectedly winning Tommy to Marcel Spears’s plucky, generous, expectations-defying Vic. (Kudos to Rafaeli and casting director Phyllis Schuringa, CSA for some inspired, out-of-the box casting where Spears is concerned, and to Majok’s real-life spouse Bania for Maks’s harmonica wizardry.)

 Scenic designer Tim Mackabee manages to make Ironbound’s highway-adjacent bus stop set both urban-stark and strangely beautiful, lighting designer Lap Chi Chu conveys the play’s transitions from winter to summer to fall and back again to perfection, and costume designer Elizabeth Caitlin Ward and sound designer Leon Rothenberg add to the Jersey ambiance every step of the way.

Elizabeth A. Brohm is stage manager and Ross Jackson is assistant stage manager. Annie Worden understudies the role of Darja.

 Destiny’s Child could well have been singing about Darja when they hit the airwaves with “Survivor” back in 2001 and Darja herself might have sung along when Beyoncé belted out the words “I’m not gon’ give up, I’m not gon’ stop, I’m gon’ work harder, I’m gonna make it, I will survive.”

 You may not take to Darja from the get-go, and she certainly doesn’t make it easy to love her, but with Marin Ireland bringing her to unforgettable life on the Geffen stage, I defy anyone not to end up smitten.

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Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood. Through March 4. Tuesdays through Fridays at 8:00, Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00. Sundays at 2:00 and 7:00. Reservations: 310 208-5454

–Steven Stanley
February 8, 2018
Photos: Chris Whitaker


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