Unrequited love can really drive us mad. We all know that horrible feeling: the gut-punch when we see the object of our affection holding hands with someone else. But what happens when the person we're in love with is significantly older? Does it feel the same?
The answer, according to Genevieve Hulme-Beaman's eyebrow-raising solo show Pondling, is a resounding yes. Madeleine, the protagonist of this 70-minute piece at 59E59 Theaters as part of the 1st Irish Festival, is head-over-heels in love with someone whose age greatly outnumbers hers. Of course, that's not hard when you're a small child, like Madeleine, and the guy you like is well into his teen years.
Madeleine is like every young girl. She rides around town on her My Little Pony bicycle. Like any child, she plays around at her local lake, has a huge imagination (she sees herself as a beautiful swan princess), and has a huge crush on the dashing Johnno Boyle O'Connor, an infatuation that isn't reciprocated. This fact makes Madeleine mad. Mad to the point that she fantasizes about killing Johnno's girlfriend.
Hulme-Beaman is riveting as the rambunctious Madeleine. Dressed in a proper schoolgirl's uniform, she expertly captures the mannerisms and behavior of a pre-teen, with vocal inflections to match. Although her style tends to veer into the territory of acting with a captial A, she delivers an alternately funny and chilling performance that can be best described as the love child of Vada Sultenfuss (from My Girl) and Carrie White (from Carrie).
Even at slightly over an hour, Pondling outstays its welcome by about fifteen minutes. The script itself is too deliberately vague, glossing over major story points (just how old are the characters, we wonder) and hard to follow as Hulme-Beaman spits out the text at lighting speed. Director Paul Meade has created a very fluid staging, but the pacing needs to be slowed down to allow whatever details have made their way into the story to sink in with audience members.
It's hard not to think of Carrie during Pondling, especially when the overhead lights (by Colm McNally) dim and foot lamps project the brooding shadow of Madeleine on the upstage wall. It leads to an entirely unexpected feeling of horrifying complacency. It's a deliberately unsettling tonal shift that the production handles quite well. And it even hammers home the thesis: Don't rush your childhood away fantasizing about romance. There's enough time for heartbreak when you're a grown-up.