Leach, a CCM drama grad, takes the stage wearing jeans, a black hoodie and sneakers, proclaiming portentously that “Time began with a bang that sounded like a whisper.” On his knees, he invokes a Muse to sing of “war, chariots and death.” He envisions mankind’s last breath: aka “The End Is Near.” A female voice-over tells the poet she has just what he needs — the next big thing — and that he is to look “at a place where you least expect it” for answers.
Throughout the remainder of the approximately 45-minute set, speaking mostly in a rambling combination of a scripted stream of consciousness and rap, Leach rages, role-plays, reflects, observes, judges, moves offstage with an ax to chop at a log and flirts. He sometimes uses a microphone and falls to the floor repeatedly (from which he sometimes awakes as if from a dream).
Also onstage during the performance is Ben Leach, who drums and plays the banjo to accompany the poet’s journey.
Each section’s title is projected on a backdrop: “the forecast,” “the fortress,” “the forest,” “the funeral” and “the frontier.” Program notes indicate that in these sections the poet dreams of what is to come, moves through the city, falls asleep in the woods, sees “the end” and finally awakens in a field after an unknown period of time.
Leach has a nimble mind and tongue, and his self-centered rant covers a lot of ground. He takes the audience through sewers, grows increasingly anxious, sees the entropy of history, the world’s elimination, guns, bombs, stained oceans, kids rolling spliffs, crack being bubbled, do-nothing politicians, hard drives full of hard-ons. He loses faith, seeks God, sees trees as dead giants and returns to his childhood while bemoaning that he's older.
He invokes a presence (whose name I heard as “Orack”) as a destroyer, “whose smile is broken glass.” Finally he collapses and awakens yet again to have the epiphany that he can't subdue his anxiety over death — “I cannot dance myself out of Death’s embrace” or talk or write his way out of destiny. He seems to conclude that the only thing we can do when we encounter death is “smile back.”
Leach again appears to talk with his Muse and is told to seek serenity in creation. He realizes that there is “no me,” that all creation is portraits of God. He comes to see himself as the “ink that makes the meaning” and that we are all poems. At the conclusion of his set, he again intones “the world does not end with a bang but with a whisper” and all fades to black.
I think The End Is Near is meant to be a tour-de-force displaying Leach’s breadth of imagination, command of rap and wordplay and physical presence (there are a few moments of dance). It's also a good demonstration of the elements of an epic poem. Some of the language, especially as is describes nature, is breathtaking, but you’ll need to keep your ears open to catch it, especially when the percussion is loud.
Leach has talent, and much of it is on display in The End Is Near. Whether his epic poem means as much to his audience as it means to him remains up for grabs.
(Get upcoming performance dates and venue details here.)