Playwright: Abbie Spallen. At: A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells. Phone: 312-943-8722; $20-$25. Runs through: May 24
Move over, Conor McPherson! Step back, Martin McDonagh! There's a girl in the lads' clubhouse and she's got stories to tell! Her name is Abbie Spallen, her turf is the border county of Armagh, and this, her second play, is out to show us Yanks that Irish troubles needn't be based in political consciousness. But if the difference between Americans and Brits is that the former consider 100 years to be a very long time, and the latter, 100 miles to be a very long distance, the avenues of escape for citizens mired down in torpid mediocrity and chafing under personal unfulfillment are few, indeed.
One of these is disgruntled housewife Sinead McAlinden, wedded to farm-worker Hammy who, even after several years of marriage and two children, still prefers to spend his free time in the company of his buddies, swilling beer, racing cars and boasting of their sexual conquests. ( Asked why she married him, his weary spouse shrugs, "There weren't many to choose from." ) Hammy differs somewhat from his peers in that he is the proud owner of a 1970 Toyota Celica and has a standing booty call with young Sandra, the tomboyish waif who runs the local petrol station—an occupation earning her the leering sobriquet "Pumpgirl."
Nothing good can come of this situation, of course. Sinead has a quickie with a smooth-talking, but ultimately faithless, adulterer. Sandra is gang-shagged by the overaged gearheads, for no particular reason other than being nearby when the boys tire of their own entertainment. Hammy undergoes a crisis of conscience that only exacerbates his guilt and frustration. All this leads to a denouement offering redemption for the suffering and punishment for the wicked, however oblivious the objects of this lesson may be to their own edification.
The involved parties recount these events over 90 minutes of dispassionate testimony, softening some of the potentially brutal spectacle—e.g., Hammy's final breakdown, when he goes berserk on the job, savagely attacking his employer's livestock—while reinforcing the stasis fueling the characters' despair. Spallen manipulates her language with virtuoso dexterity, however, conjuring images of startling acuity. ( Olfactory descriptions are especially graphic—odors of automotive products, poultry yards, stale beer and greasy takeout food. ) And director Karen Kessler has her trio of tightly focused ensemble players engage in more movement than a monologue text requires, keeping us both intellectually and physically alert to the sordid tale of commonplace tragedy unfolding before us.