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A CurtainUp Review

What about your woman up in the garage? The pumpgirl? The one who walks like John Wayne and looks like his horse?— Hammy
Labhaoise Magee- Photo: Carol Rosegg
Abbie Spallen's Pumpgirl blows into the Irish Repertory's basement theater just as November's raw winds strips bare the trees' plumage in New York. Directed by Nicola Murphy, it is a three-hander that looks at adultery from the warped perspectives of its characters who are living in the current day badlands of North Ireland.

Set in a petrol station, the play invites you into a rural Irish environment where the locals have difficulty seeing beyond their immediate geography. The troubles of Ireland might lie in the past. But don't tell that to this hapless trio who are struggling to make sense of their bleak lives and looking for love in all the wrong places.

We first meet the eponymous Pumpgirl (Labhaoise Magee), who's indelicately described as having the walk of John Wayne and looking like his horse. Rounding out the cast is the amateur stock-car racer Hammy (Hamish Allan-Headley) who thrives on burning rubber on pavement and his bored and frustrated wife Sinead (Clare O'Malley).

The play, in its fugue-like structure, reminded me of Conor McPherson's plays (as it did Curtainup's reviewer when she saw a Pump Girl production at Manhattan Theatre Club a dozen years ago (click here to read that review). While it doesn't have the sharp clarity of tMcPherson's work, it does have the same interlocking pattern of its monologues, it too gains in intensity as it moseys along toward the finale.

Spallen has a real gift for creating striking images and crafting memorable lines throughout the piece. Whether it's comparing Hammy to a character out of the Matrix films, Sinead being smitten by her lover's quotation from Francis Bacon, or Pumpgirl's description of petrol being like ripe cherries in vinegar, you get a real sense of the delusions of these characters as they search for meaning in their empty lives.

The originality and wit of this piece isn't enough to sustain it for almost two hours, however. After a while of listening to the talk about hard-luck lives from various slants I found myself yearning for some real action to glue its dramatic elements together for a satisfying whole.

Kudos to Hamish Allan-Headley, Labhaoise Magee, and Clare O'Malley. Their ensemble acting is well-done, with nobody trying to outshine each other. All manage to wrap their mouths around the North Ireland dialect with ease and inhabit their personas convincingly. Although I must confess that some of the regional expressions were a bit difficult to pin down at times, each performer's vivid facial expressions and body language allowed you to get the gist of what was being said in the moment.

The designers domuch with little. Yu-Hsuan Chen's set surreally conjures up a 1970s deluxe Toyota Celica, shabby bed-room, and seedy petrol station and snugly juxtaposes them on the intimate W. Scott McLucas Studio space. Michael O'Connor's monochrome lighting suitably reflects the monotony of the characters' lives. And Molly Seidel's costumes mirror the personalities of each character, including Hammy's devil-may-care racing outfit, Pumpgirl's butch clothes, and Sinead's casual but sexy attire.

What this play points out, time and again, is how male toxicity affects the victim and abuser alike. In short, it's a double-edged sword that leaves deep and lasting wounds on those who wield it and are subsequently struck. it's certainly not a happily-ever-after story for the title character. In fact, it reminds you that men all too often view women with a blinkered perspective, especially when it comes to sexuality. Or as the character Sinead aptly puts it: "In this town you're either a slut or a snob, no in-betweens."

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Pumpgirl by Abbie Spallen
Directed by Nicola Murphy
Cast: Hamish Allan-Headley (Hammy), Labhaoise Magee(Pumpgirl), Clare O’Malley (Sinead).
Sets: Yu-Hsuan Chen
Costumes: Molly Seidel
Lighting: Michael O’Connor
Sound: Fan Zhang
Stage Manager: Michael Palmer
Irish Repertory Theatre (at the W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre), 132 West 22nd Street. Tickets: $45 - $50. Phone 212-727-2737 or online at
From 11/07/19; opening 11/14/19; closing 12/29/19.
Wednesday, Friday, Saturday at 8pm; Thursday at 7pm; Saturday and Sunday matinees s at 3pm. There will be additional performances on Tuesday November 26 at 7pm; Monday December 23 at 7pm; and Friday December 27 at 3pm. There will be no performances on Thursday November 28 and Wednesday December 25.
Running time: 1 hour; 50 minutes, including a 15 minute intermission.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 11/13/19

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