Friday, February 12, 2021

Christopher Pennock 1944-2021


Christopher Pennock was, in the most Marvel of manners, an Ultimate Being. He was impossible in every sense ... impossibly talented, neurotic, loving, tempestuous, honest, intelligent, and necessarily profane. We lost him today. He had been suffering for some time. Depending on his mood, Pennock might have joked that he had been suffering for his entire life ... when he wasn’t busy living it to a degree that would have shamed a marching band.

The “next hottie” to find himself on the program after Jonathan Frid and David Selby, Pennock was no himbo. He kept himself honest with constant doubt. He was worried that his rough beginning as Jeb Hawkes made for a poor introduction to the ensemble. In truth, he handled the awkward hipster snake god with a sincerity that encapsulated the idea of a dark messiah who was more delinquent than demon. It was the first of many parts that allowed him to contribute irony as well as integrity. Beyond being a solid, east coast, red meat performer worthy of his Actor’s Studio affiliation, Pennock was an author, artist, and spiritual explorer who clearly saw the ludicrousness of what he was doing and committed to it full force... perhaps somewhat because of it. He found the total joy of John Yaeger’s compass for evil. He loved Gabriel’s sour wit, and loved the character’s tearful pique as he revealed his true motives to the father he murdered. To the detriment of his career, Pennock’s taste for the idiosyncratic made him impossible to injection mold as Leading Man #7. But as the show entered its post-1897 malaise, Pennock brightened every scene he was in with a unique blend of commitment and knowing humor toward himself. He was only newly brought it, detached from the legacy of the show’s early mythos, and he was here to make the most of it.

At its essence, theatre is about the struggle to make necessary changes after learning uncomfortable truths. Ladies and gentlemen, Chris Pennock. Growing up resisting the repression of the east coast’s bluest WASP blood, he was a much needed anarchist against rigid conformity. From interviews, it’s also clear that his anarchy was in the pursuit of something better. He was frank with all of us. When the conch shell of The @ButtockPennock blew the clarion raspberry, we heard of life’s triumphs and tragedies with relentless candor on social media. Often in secret code. I think my first interaction with him was over a stated intention to end it all. He had a forlorn dignity about it, and I couldn’t bring myself to argue with him. What could you do?

Later, I was lucky enough to participate in a dinner/interview with him where he eagerly talked for hours about the end of the world, severe depression, his post-coital encounter with a well-meaning transvestite, and then finished it off with a staring contest (for an audio podcast) that he let me win. It was great night. I was never more nervous nor more at ease.

It’s hard to imagine a festival without his Falstaffian presence.

I’m not sure he’s really gone from the mortal world... in the same sense that I’m not sure he was ever fully mired by it. He had the unmistakable crackle of bodhisattva as much as man, and the uncompromising humor and affection that surrounded him at his best proves my point. In his passionate extremes, he achieved a wild and pained balance. If matters became too dour, an ironic observation would rip forth with a master’s timing. And he was just as capable of deeply human kindness and insight. He genuinely existed with one foot on earth and one foot someplace else entirely. Both places are the better because of it.

Om mani padme hum, you big galoot.

You mattered.

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