“The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey”
James Lecesne’s splendid and inspiring one man show, “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey,” is currently on display at Hartford Stage and it’s an evening of theatre that demands to be seen. Focusing on the disappearance of the title character, Leonard Pelkey, Lecesne manages to embody over a half dozen different characters in this show, both male and female, and he does this flawlessly, with just a change of voice or posture.
As directed by Tony Speciale, “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” runs just eighty minutes long (without intermission), but playwright-actor Lecesne is able to create an entire world onstage and also offers a heartfelt plea for tolerance. This is not to say that the show is preachy, because it isn’t. Instead, “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” at Hartford Stage takes the form of a crackling good detective story, one in which you hang on just about every word.
The first character the audience meets in this one-man show is a police sergeant and one is immediately confronted with the investigation and disappearance of Leonard Pelkey. Leonard Pelkey (whom we never get to meet, although we do get to see a blurry photo of him projected on the back wall above the stage) is described by his family members as a teenage boy who is completely himself and not afraid to hide it, despite the insistence of the people who love him to “tone it down.”
Without giving too much away, Leonard Pelkey is a boy who really doesn’t fit in and actually chooses to celebrate how different he is to the world. Mind you, the audience finds all this out about Leonard through the characters that James Lecesne presents, which include, in addition to the police sergeant, a mother and daughter who are Leonard’s only source of family. Lecesne also enacts the various people in the town who love him (including, amusingly, a group of women from the town’s beauty parlor), as well as those who feel threatened by his individuality.
The description of the plot of “The Disappearance of Leonard Pelkey” almost makes the show sound like it is maudlin, which it most certainly is not. Actually, despite the sense of tragedy in this show, this one-man play is often quite funny and James Lecesne is a real wizard at being able to change characters on a dime. Indeed, it is always apparent onstage which person he is embodying at any given time.
“The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” is not what you would call a “message” play, but this show, nonetheless, can leave one looking at the world in an entirely new light. Credit for the success of this show goes, most definitely, to James Lecesne and director Tony Speciale, but also to the fine design team. Jo Winiarski’s minimalist set feels exactly right and the lighting design by Matt Richards is a wonder in helping to establish different characters and scenes. Also, the projection design by Aaron Rhyne is absolutely perfect, and Duncan Sheik has written the atmospheric music for the show.
The eighty-minute running time of “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” goes by in a flash, with the play delivering a good deal of humor, as well as moments that can pierce the heart. Above all, playwright-actor James Lecesne gets across in his play the importance of celebrating the differences in oneself and in others, no matter what. This idea feels entirely appropriate in the times that we are living in and “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” at Hartford Stage is truly a play for anyone who has ever felt “different,” which applies to just about anyone. Against the odds, James Lecesne manages to impart a sense of hope, which is ultimately the feeling one is left with when the lights go down on this beautiful play.
“The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” continues performances at Hartford Stage in Hartford, CT through April 23, 2017. For tickets, please visit www.hartfordstage.org or call the box office at 860-527-5151.
Photo: James Lecesne
Photo by Matthew Murphy