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Off-Broadway Review: “Pumpgirl” at Irish Rep’s W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre (Through Sunday January 12, 2020)

Off-Broadway Review: “Pumpgirl” at Irish Rep’s W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre (Through Sunday January 12, 2020)
Written by Abbie Spallen
Directed by Nicola Murphy
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The strength of Abbie Spallen’s “Pumpgirl,” currently running at Irish Rep’s W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre, lies in the playwright’s authentic characters and their believable conflicts that connect to the timeless vicissitudes of the human condition. The pumpgirl (a lachrymose yet enlightened Labhaoise Magee) at the petrol station in present day County Armagh, Northern Ireland fantasizes night and day about amateur race car driver Hammy (a too-late-conflicted alpha male Allan-Headley) who is less-than-happily married to Sinead (a sorrowful and vindictive Clare O’Malley).

The pumpgirl is not concerned about sex stereotypes and is often thought to be a boy by those more concerned with sexual status. But this “tomboy” is thoroughly infatuated with Hammy who often stops by for a chat and a quick tryst in his car. Hammy’s wife Sinead, fully aware of her husband’s philandering ways, still cares for their two children and dreads Hammy’s return home every night. One might caption this triad as a love triangle were it not for the loss of love extant in this relationship of inconvenience. The dysfunction of the three is superseded only by their tragic lack of self-awareness and self-worth.

“Pumpgirl’s” story is skillfully told from the unique point of view of each character in a series of dramatic monologues delivered primarily from the petrol station, the racetrack, a local bar, Hammy and Sinead’s home, a local market, and an abandoned house. The content of the well-structured monologues begins with detailed exposition of each character’s traits and conflicts. As the action of the play progresses, the monologues begin to disclose the loneliness of the two women and the toxic masculinity that has significantly shaped their lives and destinies.

The scenic design by Yu-Hsuan Chen, the costume design by Molly Seidel, the lighting design by Michael O’Connor, and the sound design by Fan Zhang capture the time, setting, and mood of the piece perfectly. Nicola Murphy helms the production with an exactness of vision that moves the action from surface to profound depth with precise timing. She knows the breadth and depth of her actors’ skills and she mines those resources with grace and conviction.

As the underbelly of the relationships that connect Pumpgirl, Hammy, and Sinead are exposed, the tragedy of their futures begins to unfold to a disturbing climax: the resolution of the conflicts and the plot(s) driven are not easy to accept. Hammy’s willingness to change comes too late for those he has hurt deeply and his hope for forgiveness and reconciliation cannot be achieved without significant sacrifice.

Abbie Spallen raises deeply significant questions of an enduring and rich nature. These questions transcend geography and time and connect with the audience in purgative and, hopefully, life changing ways. How can women escape patriarchy and its discontents? Are there ways to defend oneself from toxic masculinity? Can economic independence remove women from the deleterious effects of patriarchy? How do issues of race and gender affect the dynamics of patriarchy and male toxicity?

These questions connect not only with the Me Too Movement, but also with the important issues of gender identity and sexual status. Abbie Spallen’s “Pumpgirl” is as relevant now as it was in 2006.

The cast of “Pumpgirl” includes Hamish Allan-Headley as Hammy, Labhaoise Magee as Pumpgirl, and Clare O’Malley as Sinead.

"Pumpgirl" features scenic design by Yu-Hsuan Chen, costume design by Molly Seidel, lighting design by Michael O’Connor, and sound design by Fan Zhang.

“Pumpgirl” runs at Irish Repertory Theatre’s W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre (132 West 22nd Street) through Sunday January 12, 2020. For the full performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit Running time is 2 hours and 5 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

Photo: Clare O’Malley in “Pumpgirl.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, December 27, 2019