The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey brilliantly subverts both crime procedurals and comedy. This is a show not about catching the bad guys or laughing at weirdos, though it’ll trick you early on. By the end, you can count on a tear in your eye as you say goodbye to a small town and all its misfits you’ve fallen in love with.
This production of James Lecesne’s solo play stars Jeffrey Plunkett as a police detective in a small town in New Jersey investigating a missing person case, a flamboyant teen boy. Along the way, Plunkett takes on the role of each person the detective interviews, from the bird-watching mob widow to the exuberant British theatre and dance studio owner.
The distinct physicality and voices Plunkett brings to each character is clear talent. But the way, Lecesne and director Kate Alexander subtly change those depictions as the show goes on is masterful. When the play starts, one might confuse it for a farce. The detective is shrouded in enough fog to fill a film noir back alley scene, despite being in his home office. He’s cocky, he’s got a swagger, he’s a caricature of the hardboiled detective, presiding, amusingly, over a nowhere town.
The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey
closes July 22, 2018
Details and tickets
The next few characters are just as easily laughed at, until it becomes uncomfortable to laugh at a man for pretending to be a woman or for being as effeminate as that theatre and dance studio owner. Isn’t that what the missing boy, Leonard Pelkey, was picked on for? For not being masculine enough?
The turn comes just as that mob widow is asking if people who stand by and do nothing when evil is happening go to hell too. It’s a heart-stoppingly intimate moment from a character with such tacky glasses. It’s during that scene that we start to realize Leonard probably isn’t coming back. And it’s when James Lecesne’s magic begins to work.
Instead of laughing at these oddballs, Lecesne convinces us to fall in love with them by seeing them through Leonard’s eyes. It’s almost a sermon in seeing the humanity in others and being the person they feel safe being themselves around.
As a crime procedural, the case pretty much develops by random luck and leads exactly where we all expected it to go. But the mystery was never the point. It’s an excuse to celebrate how many lives just one person can touch in so little time. By the end, the detective, a former bully himself, is a changed person. And so is the audience.
The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey by James Lecesne. Directed by Kate Alexander. Performed by Jeffrey Plunkett. Scenic design by Stephen Dunham. Costume design by Adrienne Webber. Lighting design by Mike Wood. Sound design by Thom Korp. Produced by 1st Stage. Review by Marshall Bradshaw.
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