BWW Review: THE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD PELKEY at Hartford Stage
THE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD PELKEY is a "whodunit with a heart of gold", and is a tour-de-force for James Lecesne (Author of Trevor and one of the founders of The Trevor Project) who wrote the young adult novel (Absolute Brightness) that the play is based on as well as the script for the play. Mr. Lecesne portrays all of the characters in the small Jersey Shore town who are touched by the singular and brilliant soul of Leonard Pelkey. Over the course of the 80 minute production (with no intermission), the audience is introduced first to Chuck DeSantis, the detective tasked with investigating Leonard's mysterious disappearance, who serves as the narrator and thread that ties these stories together. Subsequently, Mr. Lecesne beautifully brings to life a cast of characters including a brooding 16 year-old girl, her no-nonsense hairdresser mother, an elderly German clock repairman, and countess others. Their stories intertwine and reveal the way Leonard's influence, his attitude, and his "absolute brightness" touched their lives in more ways than one.
In THE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD PELKEY, James Lecesne shines as brilliantly as the fictional Leonard Pelkey, himself. He captures the audience from the moment the lights come up on the stage (which comprises a non-descript police station office, a table with items that will factor into the story, and a projection screen that is used to positive effect throughout) and nimbly shifts from one character to the next, sometimes without so much as a breath, and does so with a certain finesse that one sometimes forgets that there is only one actor on stage. Through body language and mannerisms (and unique voices) the cast of characters is introduced one by one, each one another color in the diverse and beautiful palette of the story. There are numerous moments throughout the play that stand out, including a number of comical interchanges and observations from the characters that had audiences laughing. But Mr. Lecesne truly captivates during his touching monologues that help convey how Leonard's message of being true to yourself and being a light for others is something we all should strive for.
In presenting THE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD PELKEY, Hartford Stage delivers an intimate and emotional piece that is simple, yet extremely profound. In a space that has been home this season to Ebenezer Scrooge's Victorian mansion, a Pittsburgh home, and a technicolor Greek waterfront, the simple setting is quite the contrast, but is just right. Jo Winiarski's set, Matthew Richards' lighting, Christian Frederickson's sound, and Aaron Rhyne's projection designs work together in concert to help bring to life Leonard's story, and the original music by Duncan Sheik (SPRING AWAKENING) help set the mood. Tony Speciale, as director, has creatively and successfully used all of these pieces to tell this very special story.
And speaking of story, the message of THE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD PELKEY couldn't come at a more important time. With our country divided and so many people choosing to single out the "other" and belittle or berate those who are different from them, Leonard's light and his message of hope, even in the darkest of times, is a balm to the soul. And while, in 2017, things are much better than they were, there is so much more we can do to be a light for others, to be our authentic selves, and to focus on what is good and right. That is truly the "absolute brightness" that came from Leonard Pelkey, and it is something that each of us can use to be our own light in this world.
THE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD PELKEY runs at Hartford Stage in Hartford, CT through April 23rd. Hartford Stage is located at 50 Church Street, Hartford, CT 06103. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. For more information call 860-527-5151 or visit www.hartfordstage.com
Top and Middle Photos: James Lecesne as Chuck in The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey
Bottom photo: James Lecesne as Gloria in The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey
All photos by Matthew Murphy