Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey
The Old Globe
Review by Bill Eadie | Season Schedule

Also see David's review of Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)

James Lecesne
Photo by Matthew Murphy
James Lecesne has been credited with co-founding The Trevor Project and writing for "Will and Grace," so the story he wrote and tells in his solo show, The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey, should come as no surprise. It is a sad, too common, tale, but Mr. Lecesne enacts it with enough lightness and humor to keep it from becoming morbid.

Chuck DeSantis is a police detective in a small town on the Jersey shore. A local teenager named Leonard Pelkey has been reported as missing and is eventually found murdered. In investigating the crime, Chuck learns that Leonard could be charitably described as being "different." He dressed flamboyantly, had strong opinions, and seemingly did not care what other people thought. But, Chuck learned that Leonard was being bullied at school, and pretty continuously, too. He also learned that Leonard had befriended a number of people in town. Several of these people were not ones who might naturally take to friendship with a boy like Leonard.

Mr. Lecesne lets his story unfold bit by bit, first introducing people who were close to Leonard and then widening the circle, as Leonard's "absolute brightness" comes through in the conversations Chuck has with people who knew Leonard. Ultimately, the story presents a bittersweet depiction of a hate crime committed against a pretty special kid. It could have been an angry depiction of social injustice, but it's more effective the way it's told.

Mr. Lecesne embodies his characters without resorting to overstatement or parody. These choices make his portrayal all the more powerful in the end. Credit good work by director Tony Speciale in helping Mr. Lecesne shape the 75-minute, no-intermission, performance effectively.

The Old Globe's simple production serves the storytelling exceptionally well. A work table filled with seemingly unrelated objects becomes a set of clues that Chuck comes across in his investigation (the scenic design is by Jo Winiarski). Matt Richards' lighting design is cleverly dominated by individual lights that "key" in on items on the table as they become important in the investigation.

The Old Globe has supplemented the production by sending teaching artists to San Diego's LGBT Community Center. There they worked with youth to create art that responds to the themes of the production. That art is on display as patrons exit the theatre. I wish that I had waited until the crush of the exit had subsided so that I could have looked at the pieces on display more closely. The point is made by walking by the exhibit, but the individual items are worth more than a passing glance.

From time to time, The Old Globe imports a solo artist show for one of its subscription slots. The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey is one of the better ones of this genre. It doesn't bowl audiences over or wow them with its brilliance, but it will make them smile at the humanity of its title character.

The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey through October 29, 2017, at The Old Globe's Conrad Prebys Theatre Center in San Diego's Balboa Park. Performances Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays at 7pm, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm, and Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm, Tickets are available by calling The Old Globe Box Office at (619) 234-5623 or by visiting Parking can be difficult, especially for weekend matinees, so planning for an early arrival is encouraged.