Kings Cross Theatre, September 5
It’s not just Darja’s second husband who punched her in the face. Life’s done it often enough to make a move from Poland to America attractive. But then America turned out to be factories, house-cleaning, two broken marriages, a dysfunctional de facto relationship and a runaway son. Some dream.
Playwright Martina Majok tears the veneer away from human interaction as brutally as a builder rips a wood-grain facade from a 1970s kitchen. She smears the play across 22 years of Darja’s life in non-chronological chunks, so it’s not just her life that is broken, it’s time. The characters lie to one another not so much to deceive, but to avoid confronting truth.
The play carries bruised, broken-English echoes of Waiting for Godot, with Darja awaiting a bus that never comes – or not until the coda, and then not for her. She also awaits contact from her son, Aleks, clinging to this as proof of love and life.
This dour contemporary vision offers about as much hope as did post-war Europe, yet Darja would spit on our pity. Resilient, stoic and smart, she can even be funny in a language that constantly entangles and trips her. The actor playing her must catch the ebb and flow of her hot blood, and Gabrielle Scawthorn has Darja’s essence spilling off the bus-stop bench like it’s raining verity and there’s no roof beneath which to shelter.
Darya tells of a friend whose arm was sliced like salami in a factory, and her own emotional life is like that arm. Scawthorn has to excavate a bullish determination not to be beaten, even when the rewards of survival are so threadbare as to barely cover a wound. It’s a very good performance that could become a great one if she dared to jettison some of the craft behind the portrayal.
Alistair Clark’s production for An Assorted Few has the playwright’s intent projecting like thorns on which we keep snagging ourselves. Benedict Wall plays Tommy, Darja’s de facto, who treats adultery as his inalienable right and Darja as functional furniture. Abe Mitchell is Maks, her Polish first husband, whose American dream is to be a Chicago blues star, and Ryan Morgan is Vic, the rich kid flirting with New Jersey’s underbelly because he feels alienated at home.
But he has choices. Darja has “alien” tattooed on her heart.
Until September 15.