Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey

Matthew Murphy
The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey, currently at the Westside Theater, is a sweet, thoroughly engaging one-person show, and I say this as someone who is not particularly fond of one-person shows. Over a brisk 75 minutes, several characters--all depicted by Lecesne, who is also the playwright--discuss the events surrounding the disappearance of the title character, a flamboyant and highly independent 14-year-old boy who lives in a small town on the Jersey shore. It's no surprise that Leonard turns up dead, or that he was killed by a person with no patience for difference; if you're looking for a really tautly-written crime drama that will keep you on the edge of your seat before all the loose ends get tied up in the last five minutes, you're looking at the wrong show. Rather, the pleasures of Leonard Pelkey lie in its vivid characters, all of whom are played with enormous sensitivity and insight by Lecesne.

Performers who inhabit many roles during a single performance tend to broadcast their own feelings about the characters they portray. I've seen a number of very well-respected storytellers and monologists who, either consciously or unconsciously, adulate or demean their own characters, thereby informing the audience whom they dig and whom they think are total douchebags. Yet Lecesne's characters, all humans and some more flawed than others, are presented without judgment. Characters that could very easily slide into parody never do. Lecesne depicts the mob wife with the heart of gold, the fey British drama teacher, the heavily accented hairdresser and her sullen adolescent daughter with the same nuanced, respectful distance that he does the aged and regretful clockmaker, the hard-bitten detective who investigates the disappearance, and even Pelkey's killer. The show benefits enormously from its creator's refusal to condescend to his characters or, by extension, to his audience.

The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey reminds us that for all the new freedoms we celebrate in this country, we still have a very long way to go when it comes to the embrace--or even understanding--of difference. This is an important message, but not one that's forced, here. This is a gentle, moving show, written and performed by one of the absolute brightest and most careful storytellers I've seen.    

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