Like watching real people

Theatre Exile's "Iron' at the Fringe (2nd review)

3 minute read
Munro: Questions without answers.
Munro: Questions without answers.
When I go to the theater, I hope for one of two things: a comedy so witty and well performed that I find myself laughing days or even years later whenever I think about it; or a drama so deeply nuanced and mysterious, without being opaque, that I try to start conversations about it with total strangers. Theatre Exile's new play, Iron, is a good example of the latter.

The story is simple. Fay (Catherine Slusar) has been in prison for 15 years for murdering her husband. She has had no visitors and is presented as a complex, difficult, possibly dangerous person.

One day, her 25-year-old daughter Josie (Kim Carson) comes to visit her. The daughter is outwardly composed and successful. The mother is suspicious, wary, excited, angry and a host of other passionate feelings. The daughter seeks answers. The play concerns this visit and those that follow.

As the visits become more intimate and intense, the characters (who never become clichés or cardboard figures used to display the playwright's "message" or "moral") reveal more and more about themselves. All these revelations serve to present the audience with a series of questions:

—What were the circumstances of the murder? Does that really matter?

—Why are there so many things Josie can't remember?

—How much of the women's behavior is manipulative and how much is authentic?

—Do we have any right to try to live our lives through our children? What if we have no other choice?

—Is our sense of guilt so personal that no one— even someone we love— has the right to take it from us in order to make him or her feel better?

—Which is worse: to have someone meet our rage with equal rage, or to dismiss it with a laugh?

The Scottish playwright Rona Munro raises these questions and many others. Most are only partially answered, not because Munro is being coy or obscure, but because these are the questions we must ask, even though we must know— surely we must know— that the answers won't likely bring us the resolution we think we want.

Iron is set on a simple, effective stage, with the audience seated on both sides, almost as if it were a jury. The action is spare, focusing on the intensity of the dialogue between the two women. (This is a thinking play, not an action play).

The two guards (Caitlin Antram and Mike Hagen) are important to both the action and the tone, and provide an important look into prison life. Each pursues an agenda of his/her own, which keeps them from becoming mere stage functionaries. The fact that they have their own stories to tell is another strength of the play.

The acting, uniformly excellent and controlled, conveys the sense that what we hear is only a small part of what the characters think. This is very much an ensemble piece— no grandstanding here—and rather than feeling you are watching great acting, you feel you are watching real people. Now, that is great acting.♦

To read another review by Norman Roessler, click here.

What, When, Where

Iron. By Rona Munro; directed By Deborah Block. Theatre Exile production through October 10, 2010 at Studio X, 1340 South 13th St. (215) 413.9006 or

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