Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey @ The Westside Theatre (Downstairs)

The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey was an absolute joy. After a sold-out and critically acclaimed run earlier this year at Dixon Place, Absolute Brightness has returned for a limited 12-week engagement, and it is certainly not something to be missed. Its new home, downstairs at the Westside Theatre, provides an intimate experience and allows the audience to be right in the action and one with the story, while also connecting with their fellow audience members. It demonstrates one of the piece’s points that we are all linked to one another and can have an effect on each other.

The play follows detective Chuck DeSantis as he investigates the disappearance of Leonard Pelkey, a flamboyant 14-year-old. Through his investigations he encounters several of the townspeople in their small town on the Jersey Shore who have all been profoundly affected by Leonard, as they explore what this young boy who was not afraid to be himself taught them about life.

While some may be wary of a one-man show, they have nothing to fear, as Absolute Brighness is marvelously helmed and performed by James Lecesne. Lecesne is able to command the stage every second of the 90-minute piece, being absolutely engaging and keeping the energy high. His comedic timing is impeccable, eliciting laughs at all the right moments, while also being able to hit the hard and serious moments. Effortlessly switching between voices and wonderful physicality, Lecesne plays no less than seven different and distinct characters – from a Jersey hairstylist, her sheepish 16 year old daughter, an eccentric drama school owner, an old ex-mob wife, an old clock shop owner, and a teen boy gamer, to the “main” character of Chuck the detective. While one is aware that it is all the same actor, it never feels that way, as Lecesne effortlessly breathes distinct life into each. His talent is absolutely palpable and unbelievable, bringing wonderment and utter admiration. 

What is even more astonishing than Lecesne’s wondrous performance, is the fact that he also wrote the piece. This personal investment and connection shined throughout his performance, as you could tell he cared deeply for the story he was telling, and was proud to be sharing it with the world. Lecesne’s myriad of talents and accomplishments include being the screenwriter for the Academy Award winning film Trevor and a co-founder for The Trevor Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to suicide-prevention for LGBT youth. When purchasing tickets through telecharge, a portion of full price and premium tickets are donated to the organization. While the piece obviously deals with the subject of LGBT issues in today’s society, it never feels preachy or imposing. Rather, it is realistic, meant to make people think- have things really changed?  

The scenic design by Jo Winiarski is minimal, consisting of a table laid out with artifacts of Leonard’s that are now pieces of evidence and a few chairs is effective, as it keeps the focus on Lecesne’s spectacular acting and supports him when necessary. Similarly are the effects of Aaron Rhyne’s projection design, which enlarges the various exhibits in Leonard’s case, showcasing how he is connected to each of the different townspeople. The play features original music by Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening); this along with sound design by Christian Frederickson and Matt Richards’ lighting, easily characterize the different settings that each character resides in, and set the world and tone as the story shifts.

While Absolute Brightness is centered around a tragedy, at its core it is a heartwarming tale. This seemingly contradictory nature is what makes the play so profound and intriguing. Theatre is the perfect medium for this story, as it allows a human connection between performer and audience, and truly encourages and invites audience members to reflect on relationships within their own lives. As Lecesne took his bow, the audience leapt to its feet, smiles beaming on every face, all of us impacting by Leonard’s story just as those in the show were. Not only is The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey brilliantly conceived and performed, but it makes you think, laugh, and examine the brightness that exists around us. Head over to the Westside Theatre before Absolute Brightness disappears on October 4. Be inspired. Be bright.

Review By: April Sigler
Photos By: Michelle V. Agins

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