Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey
Hartford Stage
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Fred's reviews of Next to Normal and Smart People and Zander's review of My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra


James Lecesne
Photo by Matthew Murphy
James Lecesne, author and performer, brings his always engaging 80-minute play The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey to Hartford Stage where it continues through April 23rd. The source material for this one-man show, which demonstrates the enviable versatility and command of an actor, is Lecesne's novel "Absolute Brightness," published in 2008.

Lecesne catches and then holds his audience from the moment he takes the stage as Chuck DeSantis, a husky Jersey shore detective who enjoys, every so often, sharing a Shakespearean line. With his accent true, this dedicated soul turns his attention toward his task: trying to find out what happened to a 14-year-old boy who disappeared. DeSantis, a working class hero, is decisive and unwavering. The vastly talented actor soon transforms into Ellen Hertle, a loud and feisty woman who, as a hairdresser and owner, is anything but shy. She has been bringing up her nephew Leonard. Ellen's daughter Phoebe is a bit out of sorts. The girl, though, informs the detective that Leonard is gay.

The virtuoso performer goes on playing, for example, an Englishman who runs the local theater/dance studio. There is an older German man who repairs watches. The actor can become a friend of Ellen's, too. Lecesne switches from one character to the next instantly, with nuance and detail. This is an appropriately physical actor. Leonard, himself, is not on the stage. A blurry enlarged photograph of the boy is projected on a screen behind the actor.

There are clues. A muddy sneaker has been found, and Ellen has recalled that Leonard had on platform sneakers at one point. She makes it known that the boy is not lost but missing. Still, though, no Leonard. Director Tony Speciale makes certain that the play, which Lecesne has brought to many locales, moves right along.

One of the characters, who comes to the beauty parlor, explains that she advised Leonard to modify his looks, not be so audacious. The evocative text enables one to imagine this teenager even if we haven't a clear and clean image of him.

There is a definite fear that someone might have hurt Leonard. If so, who did it? Was the boy to become a victim of bullying? The detective is on the hunt for Leonard. Lecesne's exquisite writing is colloquial, familiar and true. He has created a mystery and DeSantis is as much a storyteller as an investigator.

The issue and its ramifications speak volumes. A boy who was described as one "with jazz hands" is subject to torment. The actor is fully energized as he assumes one character after another. This is masterful acting and Lecesne is poised yet fueled.

I found myself mostly admiring James Lecesne's abilities as a multi-gifted dramatist. The recognizable piece is, for sure, important and timely. It is moving, yes, but perhaps not profoundly so.

The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey continues at Hartford Stage in Hartford, Connecticut through April 23rd, 2017. For tickets, call (860) 527-5151 or visit hartfordstage.org. .


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