Rosina Reynolds (left) and Kate Rose Reynolds in "Iron." Photo by Daren Scott
An acting tour de force for Rosina Reynolds and her daughter, Kate Rose Reynolds, the Roustabouts Theatre Company’s production of Rona Munro’s “Iron” pulsates with tension. Set in a women’s prison in Scotland, there’s a palpable sense that at any moment someone or some thing is about to detonate.
Fay (Rosina Reynolds) has been incarcerated for 20 years after her conviction for stabbing her husband to death. Hers is a life sentence in virtual solitary confinement with opportunities to tend a little garden her only “escape.” She has no visitors and asks for none.
Until one day, at the outset of the play, the daughter she hasn’t seen since she was arrested, the daughter who’s never visited her since, Josie (Kate Rose Reynolds), arrives at the prison. As apprehensive as she is curious, Josie is informed that drop-in visits are not allowed, that she must ask for her mother’s consent in writing before being “invited” to come and see her.
Once she does, the series of visiting-room meetings between mother and daughter begin. They are initially awkward and thorny: Fay wants to know why Josie is even bothering; Josie wants to know where the reticence and anger are coming from. But bit by bit, sequence by sequence, the relationship between the two evolves, never becoming exactly warm (touching is expressly not allowed) but bordering on something in between conversational and co-dependent.
It’s when, without quite realizing it, Josie becomes the vehicle for Fay getting what she wants – and that’s not necessarily devotion from a daughter – that “Iron” punctures any expectation that these two women are going to have a happy ending together.
Rosina Reynolds is one of the most respected actors in town, and her portrayal of Fay is dark, internalized and chilling. She deftly carries off the moments, too, when Fay re-enacts times in her past when life seemed gay and impetuous and full of fun – few as they were.
This is the first time that Rosina and Kate Rose Reynolds have appeared together onstage in mother-and-daughter roles. A very talented actor in her own right, Kate endows Josie with the anxiousness, discomfiture and eventually desperate hope of a child who has discovered her mother after so many lost years. In spite of so many unanswered, terrible questions she comes to believe, maybe against her better judgment, that reconciliation and her mother’s freedom are possible.
The presence in the action of two prison guards (Jada Alston Owens and Richard P. Trujillo) works when they’re silently stalking the two women, spying for illicit passing of contraband or weapons, or when brutishly frisking Fay and Josie after visitations. Giving them both, Owens’ Sheila in particular, little back stories pads the story, the telling of which requires well over two hours’ time. They function more effectively as disciplinary specters in starched white shirts and ties.
With so much of “Iron” consisting of Fay and Josie communicating across a table, the challenge of maintaining the drama’s momentum is an obvious one, but under Jacole Kitchen’s skilled direction the mother-daughter encounters, in which emotional flare-ups on both sides are rife, remain dynamic and unpredictable.
“Iron” is heavy as iron. It’s sad and it’s claustrophobic.
It’s also potent theater with two actors bringing their “A”game.
“Iron” runs through June 25 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando.
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David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.