Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 3, 2017

The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through April 23, 2017
by Jarice Hanson

Photo by Mathew Murphy
In 2008, actor/writer/storyteller James Lecesne published a book about a young gay man’s disappearance and murder as told through the eyes of his cousin, a 16-year old girl. In 2015, he adapted that young adult novel for the stage and is now performing the piece at Hartford Stage. The point of view has changed for the stage—the story is now told from the perspective of the hard-boiled New Jersey Detective assigned to the case whose job it is to “look for shit in the shadows.” In the telling of the story, Lecesne seemingly morphs from one character to the next, totally embodying male and female roles as diverse as a 16-year old girl to an 80-year old watchmaker.

We never meet Leonard Pelkey, other than to see a blurry image of him on a screen where other clues in this modern “who-dunnit” are projected, but we get to know him through the words of others whose lives he has touched. Lescesne is a gifted actor and we’re drawn deeper into the police procedural through the witnesses he creates, sometimes in the blink of an eye, or a spin on stage. With direction by Tony Speciale and original music by Duncan Sheik, the performance feels more like a fully staged production than a one man show. The story is simple and seems so familiar you may think it was ripped from the headlines, but it actually is a story of personal acceptance and finding the brightness in one person that gets passed on to others. Leonard, we learn, accepts himself for who and what he is, and in doing so, changes the lives of everyone he meets.

Lecesne wrote the novel shortly before the topic of cyber-bullying became well known, and the theme of personal acceptance and community support is subtle, but very present. The message is upbeat and heart-warming. Equally heart-warming were the number of young adults in the lobby, waiting for Lecesne to sign copies of the book. This, as much as the standing ovation, tells you that the story is timely, important, and James Lecesne a gifted cultural critic as well as an interpreter of human emotion.