Honest Pint Theatre Company’s current production of The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey, now playing in Leggett Theatre on the second floor of Main Building at William Peace University in Raleigh, NC, is a terrific one-man show, starring the oh-so-talented David Henderson and directed by Susannah Hough. Through Henderson, the audience gets to travel alongside hard-scrabble New Jersey detective Chuck DeSantis as he works to crack a tragic case — the disappearance and murder of a young gay teenager, Leonard Pelkey, who has been missing for almost 24 hours. His family fears the worse, so they visit the detective to start the search.
It takes some skill to transform oneself into a British drama coach, a Mob wife, a young teenage girl, a chatterbox hairdresser, and a video-game-obsessed youth, yet Henderson brings each character to life beautifully. Through mannerisms, stance, eye-contact, and vocal timber, each character comes alive on stage, as they are interviewed by the detective and tell their stories about the amazing Leonard.
We learn that Leonard was quite flamboyant and unafraid to be himself. He wore rainbow sneakers; and as his drama coach reveals, “I don’t think I’ve ever met a child who could express himself so thoroughly with jazz hands.” Suffice it to say, his effervescence raises eyebrows in the small town where he lives; and those who love him tell him to tone it down, because they fear for his safety. But Leonard refuses to be anyone but himself, claiming that if he changes who he is, then he would be letting the terrorists win. He is wise before his years.
Sadly, we learn that his family’s fears were not misplaced; and Leonard goes missing. As the investigation continues, we learn just how moving Leonard was to those around him. He was kind. He brought joy. But, as the wife of a Mob boss states, “People don’t like different when they are all the same.”
When Leonard’s body is found floating in a lake, everyone realizes what they have lost. Even though Leonard was “too much,” they had not gotten enough. People ask themselves why they didn’t spend more time with him, and why did they failed to appreciate his lightness and brightness while he was on earth.
Everyone has stories to tell about Leonard’s courage to be himself in the face of cruel taunts and bullying. And in the telling, the audience gets the chance to examine how we treat those who are different. Are we kind? Do we revel in uniqueness? Or do we push it down and snuff it out, because we are scared of that which is different?
Dramatist James Lecesne’s story is perfect for a one-man play, and the telling of this small tale has big implications. Scenic designer Jen Martin Leiner and projection designer Will Mikes have created a perfect backdrop for the production. The stage is sparsely set with a nondescript chair, lamps, and some liquor bottles that are neutral enough to become a detective’s office, a family room, and a watch-repair place.
Images float in on a projector screen to help tell the story. Some are quite delightful, such as watching the detective hand-write notes on his notepad or watching clouds drift by at the funeral. Others subtly help make the scene. Props must also go to sound designer Anthony Buckner, whose deft use of audio cues, like the clickety-clack of typewriters in the police precinct, completed each scene.
Although we never met Leonard — we only saw him through a hazy picture, by the end of the play, we felt that Leonard touched our lives as deeply as he touched those in his own small community. It left us sad that his bright light went out too soon, and we wished that we had some more time with Leonard Pelkey. You will, too.
SECOND OPINION: April 8th Raleigh, NC News & Observer mini-preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/article206900694.html; April 6th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Roy C. Dicks: https://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8915; and April 4th Durham, NC Herald-Sun mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-absolute-brightness-of-leonard-pelkey/Event?oid=11825009. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the April 8th Triangle Review review by Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2018/04/david-hendersons-exquisite-performance-makes-absolute-brightness-an-absolute-must-see-show/.)
The Honest Pint Theatre Company presents THE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD PELKEY at 7:30 p.m. April 12-14 and 19-21 in the Leggett Theatre on the second floor of Main Building at William Peace University, 15 E. Peace St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604.
TICKETS: $20 ($15 students and other under 25).
BOX OFFICE: https://honest-pint-theatre-company.ticketleap.com/the-absolute-brightness-of-leonard-pelkey/.
INFORMATION: 919-783-0025 or email@example.com.
SHOW: https://www.honestpinttheatre.org/the-absolute-brightness-of-leonard- and https://www.facebook.com/events/193072854628086/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://vimeo.com/261147668.
PRESENTER: https://www.honestpinttheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/honestpinttheatrecompany/, and https://twitter.com/HonestPintthe8r.
Absolute Brightness (2008 novel): http://absolutebrightnessplay.com/book/ (official web page) and https://us.macmillan.com/absolutebrightness/jameslecesne/9781250106117/ (Macmillan).
The Novel: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
James Lecesne (Hasbrouck Heights, NJ-born novelist, playwright, and actor): http://www.jameslecesne.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/james-lecesne-407385 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/4949 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0496043/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Lecesne (Wikipedia).
The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey (2015 one-man Off-Broadway play): http://absolutebrightnessplay.com/ (official website), https://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=5481 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), and http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/6023 (Internet Off-Broadway Database).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: https://www.hartfordstage.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/StudyGuide_ABLP.pdf (Hartford Stage).
Susannah Hough (Raleigh, NC director and Honest Pint’s co-artistic director): http://www.susannahhough.com/ (official website), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3999758/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/susannahhough (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/susannahhough (Twitter page).
David Henderson (Raleigh, NC actor and Honest Pint’s co-artistic director): https://about.me/david_henderson (official website), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3373541/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/theatrescot (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/theatrescot (Twitter page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.