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‘Pumpgirl’ plays between dark comedy and tragedy

Amy Suman is Sinead, Amy Bourque is Pumpgirl and Shawn Boyd is Hammy in “Pumpgirl.” (Courtesy of Jason Ponic)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sandra is the pumpgirl, full of swagger, swapping coarse banter with the lads and making herself available for casual sex.

She dreams of a love affair with Hammy, the smart-mouthed, 30-something boy race car driver who harbors no compunction against cheating on his world-weary wife Sinead or of fueling the hopes of an innocent young girl.

Set in Ireland’s working class borderland, “Pumpgirl” opens at the MTS Centre for Theatre on Friday, May 17. Performances continue on weekends through June 2.

Told through interwoven monologues, “Pumpgirl” (British slang for gas station attendant) premiered at the 2006 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The play marks the directorial debut of Mother Road Theatre’s Jen Stephenson.

“I knew I was looking for something I could really sink my teeth into,” she said. “It’s definitely a tragedy, but it’s also a dark comedy. The way (author Abbie Spallen) writes it is hilarious.”

All three characters tell their stories, giving the audience three different points of view.

Spallen describes Pumpgirl as a woman “who walks like John Wayne and looks like his horse.” She is the occasional lover of Hammy, a bad boy whose life revolves around his trysts with Pumpgirl or any other female he can find. Sinead is the sarcastic, sex-starved mother bored with her life.

“Hammy and Sinead’s marriage has been dead for four or five years,” Stephenson said.

Sinead stands on the precipice of her own dark thrill when a strange man quotes a line of poetry to her.

The playwright strips all three characters of prospects, but they slog through with pop culture references of movies, rock music and celebrities. A bitter irony drives through the play: each character knows something crucial the others don’t. Yet they all tumble into the same fate. Each member of this triangle has their say.

“By the end of the play, it stops being funny,” Stephenson said. “The audience will be on the edge of their seat.”