Numbers loom large in the life of an immigrant woman whose life comes up in the minus column in “Ironbound” at the Moxie Theatre.
We first meet 42-year-old Darja (played by Jacque Wilke) at a bus stop in a threatening neighborhood in New Jersey. She’s going nowhere since her job in a paper factory vanished along with any hope of the American Dream she came from Poland to claim two decades earlier. Darja’s addict son has heisted her wheels and taken off for parts unknown. Philandering, live-in boyfriend Tommy (Eric Casalini) comes to take her back to their apartment but there’s a score to settle first. He’s been dithering with a wealthy woman whose home Darja cleans.
Tommy and Darja fight. She demands to know how many times he’s been with her employer. What difference does it make, Tommy wants to know.
“Some numbers I can handle and some I cannot,” she says.
In flashbacks we see Darja at the same bus stop young and in love with her first husband, Maks (Arusi Santi), who harbors dreams of making it big as a blues musician in Chicago. Willing to cross the Atlantic to New Jersey at age 20, Darja can’t bring herself to follow Maks to the Windy City due to the uncertainty of a show-business career. She chooses to stay behind despite being pregnant with their child.
Instead, Darja plays the odds by marrying her boss at the factory but winds up with an abuser. One night, back at the bus stop with a black eye and torn lip, she lights a candle and utters a desperate prayer before lying down on the pavement to sleep. She is stumbled upon by Vic (Carter Piggee), a prep-school student from a wealthy family, who is steering a dangerous course as a hustler trading in street sex to combat the loneliness he feel at home. Initially startled, the two loudly bluster out of fear and eventually connect as human beings.
All the action in this one-act play takes place at a bleak bus stop rendered by scenic designer Divya Murthy Kumar with hard edges of concrete, graffiti-tagged brick wall, and surrounded by chain-link fence pulled open in places as if by desperate hands. Prop designer Angelicia Ynfante fills in the scene with trash cans and the detritus of garbage bags, greasy paper, and aluminum cans strewn about.
Lighting designer Alex Crocker conveys oppressively hot days and bone-chilling nights through the effective use of hazy and piercing street lights. An illuminated bus-route map sputters on and off, tantalizing offering a glimpse of an outside world the characters can’t possibly reach. Sound designer Haley Wolf further sets the mood with auto horns, engine revs, tire squeals, and the air-brake sighs of metropolitan mass transit.
Costume designer Anastasia Puatova garbs Darja in jeans, tank top, and a selection of hoodies and jackets, the donning and doffing of which effectively signal whether a scene presents her as a woman of 20, 34, or 42 years. Tommy, who is a postal letter carrier, wears the universally unflattering USPS shorts. Polish accents (even when actors sing) are the convincing work of dialect coach Callie Prendiville.
“Ironbound” is director Jennifer Eva Thorn’s first show as executive artistic director, taking over the reins from founding member Delicia Turner Sonnenberg who transitions into an advisory role. The production leaves no doubt that Moxie Theatre remains in exceptionally good hands.