Michael Van Duzer Reviews - Theater

In The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey, a fourteen-year-old boy is missing from his sleepy Jersey Shore town. Solving the mystery of Leonard Pelkey’s disappearance is the job of local detective, Chuck DeSantis, played by James Lecesne. And, as this is a solo show, playwright/performer Lecesne also plays the other inhabitants of the town.

After Leonard’s body is found, his disappearance becomes a murder investigation, and the play shifts into a crime procedural. However, Lecesne’s aim is wider than a simple formula. He wants to explore the extraordinary impact this boy had on the community.

DeSantis didn’t know Leonard, but his interviews with the people who did reveal a precocious young man whose innate flamboyance aroused some discomfort, even with those who loved him. And, while many loved him for his generous heart, it appears that Leonard’s forthright manner aroused deeper and more perilous feelings in the wrong person.

Lecesne’s performance is true theatrical magic. Under Tony Speciale’s meticulous direction, he sketches a gallery of widely diverse characters—a straight-talking beautician, her eye-rolling teenage daughter, Leonard’s closeted British drama coach, an elderly German watch repairman. Using no costume pieces or props, he brings each character to life with a vocal change and a subtly eloquent body adjustment.

Jo Winiarski’s scenic design provides just enough to suggest DeSantis’ office, while Matt Richards’ expressive lighting and Aaron Rhyne’s carefully chosen projections add dimension to the story. Duncan Shiek provides original music.

Lecesne also wrote the screenplay for Trevor, the Academy Award winning short film, which gave rise to The Trevor Project, a nationwide suicide prevention and crisis intervention lifeline for LGBT youth. And The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey, which is based on his novel, Absolute Brightness, continues his use of dramatic storytelling in order to make a difference.

The play betrays its Young Adult novel origins in the cursory way in which the mystery is solved

and the emphatic hammering home of the moral. But, in a world where LGBT teens continue to be the focus of harassment and hate crimes, it is hard to overstate a message of tolerance.

Kirk Douglas Theatre     January 13 -31, 2016    www.absolutebrightnessplay.com