For a one-person show to be successful an actor needs to be a gifted raconteur with an interesting and engaging story to tell. James Lecesne, the playwright and performer in the captivating and thoughtful Hartford Stage production of The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey meets these essential criteria.
Lecesne, who had a successful Off-Broadway run with the show, has crafted a tale that, on the surface, recounts a missing person investigation in a small, fictional New Jersey shore town. However, the real importance of the play is more about differences and acceptance.
The actor portrays Chuck DeSantis, a local detective, who begins to look into what happened to the individual, a 14-year-old named Leonard Pelkey. Through interviews with many denizens of the town we learn about the fate of the young man, a gay teenager in a town that’s not very welcoming of such residents. As the investigation progresses we begin to grasp the effect Pelkey, young and quirky, had on people and how his actions could inspire others in unknowing ways. This, in essence, is the meaning of the show’s title as Lecesne states in the program: “each of us brings a particular brightness to every situation, and regardless of whether other people notice it or not, it’s still there. We shine no matter what.”
The 80 minute, intermission-less production, is told with humor and pathos. Lecesne, the playwright, has created a multitude of colorful, well-etched characters, each with his or her own personality and idiosyncracies. They include a 16-year-old high school girl, a madam of the local hair salon, a bird watching wife of a Mafioso boss, and an elderly Germanic clock repair man. As an actor, Lecesne gives a multi-faceted, layered performance.
Director Tony Speciale, who was also at the helm of the original Off-Broadway production of the show, lets the stories speak for themselves. Many times Lecesne, in one of his guises, is simply sitting in a chair or standing erect giving us insight to the missing youth. The director successfully manages the transformation between characters with a quick spin by the actor or change of facial expression and intonation of voice. He also satisfactorily incorporates Designer Aaron Rhyne's projections to amplify the storyline of the production. Sometime scenes extend a bit too long but, overall, the show keeps the audience in rapt attention.
The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey, entertaining and engrossing, playing at Hartford Stage through April 23rd.