Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Also see Carla's review of Cats
Each character spends five or ten minutes in the spotlight telling their story in monologue, while the other two characters are in darkness. Pumpgirl talks from the gas station, Hammy from his race car or some random location, and Sinead from the bedroom she shares with Hammy. Over the two acts, we learn that Hammy is having an affair with Pumpgirl and Sinead is at her wits' end with her two kids and dead-end marriage. All three characters are at the end of their respective ropes.
In some performances of this play, the characters simply sit in chairs and the actors stand up as the spotlight captures their individual monologues. I'm glad director Jen Stephenson opted for the effective set designed by the always-wonderful Vic Browder.
At first, I thought the rotating monologues were a gimmick, and a fairly attractive one at that. But the effect is more than just gimmick. What we get is the story told in the first person by each of the three characters. We get a view into the deepest inner thoughts of each character, and we learn the devastating effect each character is having on one or both of the other characters. We see the raw psyches of Pumpgirl, Hammy and Sinead, and it's not pleasant in there.
Spallen's 2006 play is set in present-day County Armagh, Northern Ireland. Pumpgirl was a co-winner of the 2006-2007 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for best play written in English by a woman. The Mother Road production is noted as the West Coast premiere (I never quite thought of Albuquerque as a West Coast town, but OK). It's a gloomy tale with a particularly powerful sting made more painful by the inner thoughts of each character.
This is a jolting dive into nearly barbarous sexual situations where victims blame themselves and perpetrators feel confused semi-guilt that is ineffective at curbing their ongoing grotesque appetites. Spallen shows us a world in which grace, tenderness, and anything that might be called love is completely absent. Everything is drinking, everything is raw appetite, everything is cruel. Empathy and compassion are not possible when each character is either a perpetrator or a hopelessly confused victim.
Yet, as grim as the story isand it gets grimmer as it buildsyou can't take your eyes off this tale. It's interesting even in its horrifying twists and turns. Oddly, it's not depressing. There are snaps of gallows-type humor that are truly funny, but the humor doesn't lift the story so much as it keeps it interesting. The language is naturalistic. It never rises to poetry, but the brutal honesty of each character's story keeps each monologue riveting.
Stephenson's direction seems to aim at making sure the drama of the events doesn't get in the way of each character's personal story. As powerful as the drama is, we still get each character's tiny private feelings. Each actor digs for his or her character's truth and each actor inhabits his or her monologue in a beauty born of the character's utter honesty. Bourque, Boyd and Suman are well balanced in capability. The play simply wouldn't work well if one actor were stronger than the other two. What the audience gets in Stephenson's delicate balance is the sad, devastating story of mindless sexual appetites that are accepted even as they are crushing.
There is nice work by the supporting team, including stage manager Mark Frederick, assistant stage manager Rachel Nelson Schille, dialect coach Pip Lustgarten, costume designer Alissa Hall, and lighting designers Amy Bourque and Mark Frederick.
Pumpgirl, through June 2, 2019, in the MTS Black Box at 6320 Domingo Rd NE, Albuquerque NM. Performances are on Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 pm, and Sundays at 2:00 pm. General admission is $18 for students, $22 for ATG members and $24 general. You can buy tickets online at motherroad.org or by calling 505-243-0596.