Laura is a director. Alma is a playwright, performer, and educator.

 

 

Alma

So what was in your pockets at the start of the show?

 

Laura

Honestly, not a ton. I knew basically nothing about the play, and I think this was the first Simpatico show I’d seen. So I was coming in pretty blind. How about you?

 

Alma

I’d never seen anything at Simpatico either, and I’ve never seen Ironbound before. But I did read this play last year and LOVED it. So I was really searching for the things I remembered during this performance.

 

Laura

How did this production live up to your experience of reading the play?

 

Alma

Well, I think the play is so strong and so potent. So the things that I had loved about the script were definitely there – Darja’s constant negotiations with the men around her, and the contrasts between these mens’ lives and this woman who has a real eye for the future. I think the Julianna Zinkel was certainly able to lift up those nuances.

 

Laura

Agreed.  Zinkel gave a really strong performance. And I felt like, even coming to the material with no background, the storytelling was consistently very clear.

 

Alma

I’m glad you had that experience. That makes me feel better about having seen those details in her performance.

 

Laura

I think it’s a challenging play to stage in some ways, because it’s made up of a few pretty long scenes, all with the same setting. It can be hard to make that dynamic. There were a few moments I thought it dragged a little bit, and I couldn’t really tell if that was because of the text or because of the challenges of staging.

 

Alma

OH yeah. I mean, that’s the kind of sticky situation you get into with a character who keeps saying “I’m leaving, I’m leaving, I’m walking home, I’m going right now”, but the stage is only set for one place…there were a few moments where the justification to get her to stay didn’t really land for me.

 

Laura

Yes, for sure. I think the set design also didn’t help that aspect of it–the bus stop was balanced out by fencing and junk stage right, but everything onstage was kind of on the same plane, so there was not a lot of opportunity for anything but horizontal movement.

 

Alma

That’s so true and smart. Yeah I wasn’t particularly distracted by the set design, nor was I crazy about it. It really only enhanced the character study I was watching, so I ended up not noticing it. I will say that on the first page of the script, there was a picture of two enormous factory towers in a pretty stark concrete world, which I think totally framed my reading of the play originally. I sort of long for a design of this play that is less about disrepair or dinginess and actually more about flat, dull, concrete, forgotten America.

 

Laura

Yeah! Wow, that’s really interesting. I think something more stark like that is a smart suggestion for the playwright to make–the desperation and poverty are already so present in the dialogue.

 

Alma

Exactly. It’s suggesting that there’s a pretty broad experience of poverty in this country that isn’t as much about ugliness as much as it is about emptiness – something that Darja’s first husband was suggesting. He wanted to fill that emptiness with music and this dream of fame.

 

Laura

Speaking of him, I found myself with all kinds of complicated feelings about the men in this play. Which I think was the playwright’s intention. But one of the most emotionally affecting parts of watching the show was watching the way that Darja continually tries to claim power through bargaining or stubbornness in her relationships, and the men around her just have this freedom to leave her high and dry over and over again.

 

Alma

God I know. Yeah, I was actually with a friend at this play who isn’t involved in theater, and she actually let out a soft “no!” when Darja refused to get on the bus with Max to go to Chicago. It made me think about the ways in which the playwright sort of lays bare this narrative of which-guy-was-right-for-her and instead puts the emphasis on this exchange. Like a literal exchange: with every guy, no matter what they represent (her past, her son, America), she still has to leverage her future with them. So yeah, I don’t love any of them, but I also don’t hate any of them either. None of them are villains. They all just have a privilege of mobility.

 

Laura

Right. I guess part of the sadness I experienced watching it was that Darja’s whole life becomes about her son, in some ways. Anytime she can leverage any power with Tommy, she is trying to figure out how to find her son Alex, how to get him back. Max goes to chase this music dream that may or may not be waiting for him in Chicago, but the thing Darja is chasing keeps running away from her. I found myself really kind of hating Tommy, but I appreciated that their reconciliation at the end was really messy and not a bit cutesy or satisfying. There was this moment when he was trying to get her back where he just grabbed onto the elbow of her jacket really awkwardly, both of them looking out. That felt real.

 

Alma

I think to your first point – yeah I mean, Max went off to find this music dream, but I don’t imagine that his experience was in any way dissimilar from Darja chasing after a son who couldn’t find in her what she found in him. This time watching it it became so clear to me that her son filled the emptiness of poverty that Max had tried to fill with music. Is music going to pay Max’s rent? Maybe, one day. Is Alex going to appreciate Darja and her love for him? Hopefully. But that doesn’t make their pursuit of these two things any less intense.

 

About her and Tommy’s reconciliation at the end: yeah, there’s one level of it that feels so desperately gross, because no actual problem has been solved; they’re both still dishonest, and they’re both still only operating out of their places of dysfunction. But at the same time, for me, that ending felt really nice, because they were actually negotiating on real terms for once.

Tommy is probably going to keep sleeping with other women, and Darja is probably never going to love Tommy. But the two of them feel enough warmth for the other to communicate honestly about what their partnership might look like in the future.

 

Laura

Yeah–it’s a complicated dynamic. If she were even a little bit less aware, a little bit more susceptible to his bullshit, his attempted manipulation of her would really play like emotional abuse. But I think you’re right, they both end up negotiating on their terms to get what they want.

 

To get back to design for a minute, I really appreciated the simplicity of the overall look of the show, even if I think the set could have been a little more effective. And I loved having Darja change costumes onstage, it felt right and really intimate to have her present the whole show, so that was a nice choice from director Harriet Power and designer Natalia de la Torre.

 

Alma

Yeah, it made her transformation very clear. I liked de la Torre’s costumes a lot. I think they were actually the most effective design pieces of the show. I more or less felt okay about sound, but the only thing that took me out was Max’s harmonica walk across the starry night, right after he had left for Chicago. It felt both too on the nose/corny and also out of place for the tone of the show. I totally believe that Darja needs to be reflective and nostalgic in that moment, but she’s just too officious for theatricality like that to work for me.

 

Laura

Agreed. The stars especially felt out of place to me. Especially then contrasted with Darja’s impromptu “Fuck this bus” song that I found really sad and sweet.

 

Alma

Oh that was such a good moment! Yeah, there were a couple moments of directing that took me out of the piece, but I think the strength of the script coupled with the actors’ solid performances made it a really enjoyable piece of theater.

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