2nd Opinion Review: ‘Pondling’ at 59E59. A Vicious Debunking of the Myths of Childhood

Thomas Burns Scully

We’re all very quick to idealize childhood. So often we’ll tell the young that they are going through the best time of their life, and other such easily refuted demi-facts. As the creators of ‘South Park’, of all people, are quick to remind us, childhood is a chaotic, difficult, sometimes incredibly bitter time of our lives. We’re still so fresh and raw as children, like a cut exposed to alcohol, we feel everything intensely. It may seem like the best time of life from the outside, but if I’m honest with myself, I remember my childhood hurting like a bitch sometimes. I remember the despair at realizing my own mortality, the bitterness of being betrayed by friends, and other such precious, personality shaping experiences. Of course, it wasn’t all bad. Actually I’d say my childhood was pretty good, but my point is, childhood stings, and we forget that too quickly. ‘Pondling’, (Produced by Gúna Nua and Ramblinman) a new one woman show, now playing at 59E59 Theatres as part of Origin Theatre’s 1st Irish Festival, explores that view of childhood, and tilts it through prism of a gravely unnerving young mind.

‘Pondling’ is the story of Madeleine, an awkward young girl, somewhere between the age of nine and twelve. She explains, through the vivid prose of the show’s writer/performer Genevieve Hulme-Beaman, her life as a neglected farmer’s granddaughter, and her aspirations for love and womanhood. She pines after a cool fourteen year-old boy called Johnno, loathes his long-armed girlfriend, and longs to have a cool mother who looks like an aerobics instructor. As aspirational as she is, she seems completely unaware that she is going through possibly the most awkward awkward phase that any girl has ever gone through. She is obviously strange, and idiosyncratic in behavior. She longs to be a graceful swan-girl, yet is seemingly oblivious to the fact that she is a can-crushing chicken-whisperer whose actions border on psychopathic. A tale of obsession unfolds, as seen through the turquoise lenses of childhood.

Genevieve Hulme-Beaman in PONDLING, produced by Gúna Nua Theatre Company and Ramblinman for Origin Theatre Co’s 1st Irish Theatre Festival at 59E59 Theaters. Photos by Paul McCarthy

Genevieve Hulme-Beaman is undeniably impressive. Her focus as a performer is immediately obvious, and her command of body and voice is enthralling. She moves around the stage with a spring in her skip, casually inflicting damage on her environment in the way that children are wont to do. When she stops and her seething rage is fighting for escape, her movements become uncomfortably grotesque. Her voice throughout is loud and rarely guarded, seemingly too much for the black box space around her. She is every inch the difficult pre-teen. Her writing, as far as capturing the lexicon and temperament of an aspirational young-girl is faultless. Plotting lunges from point to point, pulling the audience with it and leading them deeper and deeper in to the unknowable bog of a mysterious and unwieldy child’s psyche. Hulme-Beaman is a force to be reckoned with.

‘Pondling’ is undoubtedly in the top twenty percent of one-person shows that I’ve seen, I should get that out of the way now, so that the criticism I do have for the show is placed in proper perspective. ‘Pondling’ earns its ticket price, which, I feel, is always the most important arbiter of choice for a theatre piece. Hulme-Beaman’s work needs no apology. There are, however, moments where the show drags. It runs to an approximate seventy-minutes, but you could easily be forgiven for thinking it was longer. Occasionally, somewhere between the writing and the performance, an overdrawn ponderousness emerges, and moments stretch on for minutes that could just as easily be dealt with in seconds. The ending also feels off, somehow. It doesn’t feel wrong or unearned, and it ties up all the threads of the story, but it feels abrupt, and oddly unsatisfying. Perhaps, though, that’s emblematic of the journey through childhood. Madeleine lurches from one emotion to the next, from one experience to the next, almost stream of consciousness-style. The ending is well in keeping with that mode. And quite often our life experiences, particularly those growing up, are sudden, unsatisfying and don’t live up to the power of our imagination. Perhaps that’s the ultimate message of the show, in which case the ending is perfect.

Origin Theatre’s 1st Irish Festival is certainly shaping up nicely. Out of what I’ve seen already I have adored ‘Selfie’ and gotten quite the kick out of ‘Little Thing Big Thing’. I didn’t love ‘Stoopdreamer’, but two out of three isn't bad. Add ‘Pondling’ in to the mix, and three out of four is even better. It is a marvel of a show about a girl’s childhood, and is willing to go to much stranger, darker places than most shows on the subject are. The story can be viewed two ways, as a difficult week or two in the life of a young girl, or as the prequel to a major episode of legitimately dangerous psychopathy. You’d be a fool not to find that engaging. Hulme-Beaman has been performing this show for over two years now, and the practice, and numerous accolades the show has won have allowed it to settle firmly in to her marrow. It would be unnerving to run in to her in to the street after the show, is what I mean by that. ‘Pondling’ is well good, and easily outstrips any mild misgivings I might have. You’d be well advised to give it a look.

‘Pondling’ runs at 59E59 Theaters through to October 4th. Tickets start at $17.50. A full show schedule and purchasing links can be found at 59e59.org It is produced by Gúna Nua and Ramblinman as part of Origin Theatre’s 1st Irish Festival. 

This review was written by Thomas Burns Scully, a New York based writer, actor and musician. His work has been lauded in Time Out NY and the New York Times, and his writing has been performed on three continents. He is generally considered to be the thrifty person’s Renaissance man. 

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