By Joseph Hurley
NOW HEAR THIS, written and performed by Kathy Buckley at The Lamb’s Theatre, 130 West 44th St. (open-ended run).
One of the things you’re most likely to take away with you from Kathy Buckley’s richly rewarding, deeply memorable one-woman show, "Now Hear This!", is the hearing-impaired comedienne’s admission that, until the advent of new, improved electronic devices, she was unaware of the sound of the laughter of babies, and, indeed, of the fact that infants were even capable of laughing.
Less moving, perhaps, but almost as striking is the tall, handsome performer’s revelation of the joy she derived from her discovery that different sorts of paper, when crinkled or rubbed together, make various varieties of sound, from tissue paper to wrapping paper to facial tissue.
Fortunately, it was noted that Buckley possessed, to put it mildly, a "normal" intelligence, but that her hearing was extremely limited.
She began to perform in 1988, on a "dare," as she tells her audiences at the Lamb’s Theatre, where, drawing upon a seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of solid humor and generosity, she shares the details of her experience over the course of a swiftly paced 65 minutes.
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Some of those details, stated baldly, might lead potential audience members to expect something grim. After all, on a day at the beach, she was run over by a large-tired vehicle driven by a lifeguard. Her recovery and rehabilitation required several extremely difficult years, after which Buckley developed cancer.
The mere fact that the first mention of the disease is the cue for a burst of extremely sympathetic laughter from Buckley’s audience should serve as an indication of the light, even jovial tone struck by "Now Hear This!" and by the extremely appealing Buckley herself.
The show is, unavoidably, somewhat reminiscent of Julia Sweeney’s one-woman venture of a couple of seasons ago, "God Said ‘Ha!’ " seen briefly on Broadway and later converted to film, Sweeney’s show suffered just a bit from a slight overlay of show business glitziness, absolutely none of which is evident in Buckley’s work or her stage personality.
What Buckley projects is a remarkably clear-headed and generous persona, going through the ups and downs of her personal history with remarkable candor, unfailing wit, and a refreshingly secure grip on unadorned reality.
Appealing as her unrelenting candidness is, she doesn’t hesitate to reveal certain aspects of the bitterness she justifiably felt at the way she was treated as a child, including a history of sexual molestation. At the same time, she doesn’t shrink from raw emotion that, under less favorable circumstances, might be dismissed as overt sentimentality.
An unavoidable, albeit somewhat delicate, question arises about Buckley’s voice in what is, after all, a theatrical venture in which speech is everything. The reassuring and truthful answer is that Buckley is extremely easy to listen to, speaking clearly in a voice which contains only the barest hints of the tonal limitations ordinarily associated with hearing impairments. She even sings, very briefly and in what appears to be perfect pitch.
Buckley is extremely easy to be around, and audiences may leave the beautifully wood-paneled Lamb’s Theatre, a couple of floors above West 44th Street, wishing her show had been even a little bit longer than it actually is. Modesty and self-discipline have probably motivated Buckley and her excellent director, Sue Wolf, to keep the performance so brief, but, truth to tell, five or 10 minutes more would be welcome.