Sunday, September 13, 2015

Genevieve Hulme-Beaman Is Riveting in PONDLING at 59E59 Theaters

Genevieve Hulme-Beaman in PONDLING.  Photo by Paul McCarthy.
Pondling, a one-woman show both written and performed by Genevieve Hulme-Beaman, debuted at the Dublin Fringe in 2013 and was staged at the Edinburgh Fringe last year.  It is currently enjoying its US premiere as part of Origin’s 1st Irish Festival at 59E59 Theaters on East 59thStreet in midtown Manhattan.

Ms Hulme-Beaman is exceptionally talented both as a playwright and as a performer (she won the Best Actress Award for her performance in Pondling at the Dublin Fringe).  As the sole performer in the play, she enacts the role of a very young farm girl, assisting her brother and grandfather in performing minor chores around the farm, and eagerly anticipating the start of the new school year where she would again see the “older man” of her dreams – her 14 year old schoolmate, Johnno Boyle O’Connor.
Pedaling about on her “my little pony” bicycle and proud of her new black patent leather shoes, she fantasizes about a future sophisticated and glamorous life with Johnno, re-imagining herself as stylish, elegant, and “a beautiful French swan girl by the name of Madeline Humble Butter Cup.”  It is just the sort of fantasy that normal little girls have engaged in since time immemorial, imagining themselves to be princesses, and if “Madeline” were the mild and innocent little girl she appears to be at first sight, there’d be nothing to be concerned about (and no reason for the play).

But we are quickly disabused of the notion that “Madeline” is just another normal little girl allowing her imagination to run rampant.  No, she is much more of a “bad seed,” as becomes increasingly evident.   Moving spastically, cackling raucously, and bellowing out her innermost secrets, she discloses, bit by bit, just how warped and pathologically malevolent she actually is.

“Madeline” prides herself on having found small ways to help out on the farm “that would go unnoticed by the untrained eye” but they’re not the sort of innocent things one might imagine.  For one, she “scared the birds from the bird feeder so the seeds lasted longer.”  For another, she “captured and killed the stray cat that scared the chickens at night” and “did it when no one was looking.”  The chore she especially loves is crushing cans –which she enjoyes so much that she moves the can crusher box from the larder to the chicken shed, where it ends up being used for a purpose for which it clearly was not originally intended.

When “ Madeline” finds a beautiful yellow flower, she imagines that it has magical powers but the powers she envisions are not those for turning straw into gold or frogs into princes; rather, they are the powers to kill or destroy anything and everything from her brother to Johnno’s girlfriend.  As it turns out, the flower is the poisonous tansy ragwort and “Madeline” ultimately does utilize its powers, although not in the manner you might suspect.

The play has its funny moments but the humor is very dark and it is much more a hauntingly macabre play than an amusing one.  Ms Hulme-Beaman’s performance is absolutely riveting as she expresses through words, actions and expressions the devolution of a superficially charming and delightful but fundamentally deeply disturbed little girl.

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