If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
Lecesne’s Solo Show Stuns at Hartford Stage
One of the best performances you’re likely to see this season is only on stage for a few more weeks. The actor is James Lecesne and the solo show that he wrote and performs in is called “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey”. It is playing at Hartford Stage until April 23 and you miss it at your own peril.
Mr. Lecesne has been seen previously at Hartford Stage in demanding works like “I Am My Own Wife” and the quick-change-artist farce, “The Mystery of Irma Vep”. But “Leonard Pelkey” is a whole new challenge for the actor; a personal journey that is as enlightening, funny, moving and revelatory as any you will see on a Connecticut stage this year. Although a complete fiction, the story will ring true and move you in ways you might not expect. It’s a gem.
With only a table of hand props, some terrific lighting (Matt Richards) and imaginative stage projections (Aaron Rhyne), Lecesne plays narrator Chuck DeSantis, a New Jersey detective in a small town on the case of a missing boy, Leonard Pelkey. The teenager was one of the town’s “characters”, a flamboyant trendsetter whose openly gay attitude seemed to have an effect on everyone he met. Lecesne plays eight other characters in breathless changes achieved without additional costumes or make-up. They include Ellen, the mouthy owner of the local hair salon, Phoebe, her 16-year-old daughter, Buddy, Leonard’s effete drama teacher, Otto, an older man who runs a clock repair shop and Gloria, a Mafia widow with some stories to tell. These characters and more are so specific, so dramatically vivid and detailed in the writing and performance, that you may wish more time could be spent with each of them.
The story careens down some dark alleys as it progresses and I won’t spoil anyone’s pleasure here by giving away too many of the curves that Lecesne has built into the material. Suffice it to say that in a very short time you’ve been taken on a journey of discovery that once experienced is not soon forgotten. Lecesne brings an abundance of pathos, humor and humanity to each of his creations and it is to his credit that he never panders to his working class characters; never shades them in sentiment or undue heroics. They are just real. Living and breathing. No other actor need achieve more on a stage.
Although “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” would no doubt benefit from a more intimate venue (I couldn’t help thinking how great it would work at TheaterWorks just around the corner from Hartford Stage). But the larger space works fine due to scenic designer Jo Winiarski's simple touches and Mr. Richards’ brilliant lighting which defines areas and spaces with clarity and beauty. A plus is also Duncan Sheik’s original music. Director Tony Speciale is obviously in complete tandem with his star and makes this very special work a breathless and seamless 80 minutes of entertainment. Don’t miss it.
“The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” continues at Hartford Stage through April 23. For further information call the theatre box office at: 860.527.5151 or visit: www.hartfordstage.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.