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Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Genevieve Hulme-Beaman
Photo by Paul McCarthy

A word to the wise: Take a good look at the girl in the photo that accompanies this review. Should you see her approaching on her My Little Pony bicycle, you would be well advised to turn around and go the other way. She does things, you see, like strangling cats and decapitating chickens and … well, let her tell it.

She calls herself "Madeleine Humbel Buttercup," a name she will pronounce in what she believes to be a grand French accent (she also likes to sing a moony Piaf-inspired version of "If You Love Me, Really Love Me"), and she will tell you she is actually a swan. But, in truth, she is the creation of Genevieve Hulme-Beaman, whose dark and disturbing monologue of a play goes under the name Pondling, part of the 1st Irish Festival at 59E59 Theaters.

Genevieve —or let's grant her "Madeleine" —is a pre-adolescent girl living on her grandfather's farm in Ireland. From her telling, it appears that she is essentially raising herself, since no adult seems to notice that she likes to wander around late at night, sometimes battling with the cows, sometimes sleeping with her "friends," the chickens (you can win them over, she assures us, by feeding them warm barley porridge).

Children who raise themselves generally do not do a very good job of it, especially when no one else provides guidance or restraints. So it is with "Madeleine," who is so terribly pleased to have us on hand to listen to her that she blurts out —mostly in exclamations —her hopes and dreams and adventures, many of them tied to her undying passion for Johnno Boyle O'Connor, the 14 year-old-boy she dotes on, but which also extends to others and puts her in situations where she unwittingly is courting danger.

With Pondling, Ms. Hulme-Beaman, who gives a stunning performance under Paul Meade's direction, offers up a psychological profile of a troubled and damaged girl. You may find yourself at times sympathizing with her, even caught up in the drama of her story telling, but in the end, you are more likely to recoil and fervently hope that someone will save this swan from injuring herself or others.

Through October 4
Running time: 70 minutes
59E59 Theater C, 59 East 59th Street between Park and Madison
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TicketCentral

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