Theater Review: The Passing Show Pays Homage to Beat Era Comic

Beat era poet and comedian Lord Buckley, served as much of the inspiration for the odd production.

To those unfamiliar with The Ochre House, its shows can often be summed up thusly: perhaps not always the best show you’ll see, but damn if it isn’t among the most memorable. Matthew Posey and his troupe of regulars—Justin Locklear, Trey Pendergrass, Carla Parker—have assembled for Posey’s original play-with-music about Lord Buckley. Never heard of the gent? Don’t worry, you needn’t be familiar with this real-life hipster beat poet and stand-up comedian to marvel at Ben Bryant’s tireless portrayal of the man.

Clad in a tuxedo and pith helmet, spouting rhythmic bebop and scatting to high heaven, Bryant completes a theatrical marathon with 90 nonstop minutes of His Royal Hipness. He’s accompanied by Lady Buckley (Parker), swishing like Vanna White in a platinum gown as she spells out phrases on a hanging wall at the back, pausing occasionally to dance or console her man.

He’s also introduced by a toothy Locklear, whose hopped-up musician never wavers in rapt admiration. Together with a languid, stone-faced Pendergrass on drums, the duo backs up Bryant as he warbles tune after robust tune (they wrote the music, Mitchell Parrack penned the lyrics). Pendergrass also steps forward briefly to sing an achingly lovely ballad, before melting silently back into the scenery.

What Bryant is singing matters less than how he delivers it (with gusto), and the same could be said for the meat of Posey’s play. Buckley is giving his own rendition of King Lear, interpreting Willy Shakes’ tragic monarch with little more than unique speech and five wigs dangling from the ceiling on bungee cords. Bryant’s lightning-quick changes in accent and stance make it simple to distinguish between the three daughters, Lear, and the Dukes of Gloucester and Kent.

Knowing much about the real-life Buckley may not be required to follow The Passing Show, but knowing a bit about “weary Leary” is. That’s because Posey’s script sometimes gets a little too wrapped up in its own patois, practically requiring a translator to guide the audience through all the jargon. The cast is off and running from the start, but sometimes they don’t wait for the audience to catch up. At several points, Bryant and Locklear even converse entirely in lingo, stage whispering to each other during rehearsed breaks in the action.

I’m gonna lay it down for you: This may not be the best thing The Ochre House has produced, but it’s certainly one of the most oddly enjoyable. You dig?






Image: Lord Buckley. Credit: (c)Ray Avery/CTSIMAGES. Used with permission.