Mom Theatre Blogger: The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey: Show Review by Robin Gorman Newman

photo by Peter Yesley

photo by Peter Yesley

Dixon Place’s (Ellie Covan, Founding & Artistic Director) new production, THE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD PELKEY, features critically acclaimed, Emmy nominated and award-winning storyteller James Lecesne, who portrays varied characters of a Jersey Shore town where a young boy goes missing. The play, based on a young adult novel by Lecesne, is directed by Tony Speciale, with visuals by Matthew Sandager and incidental music by Duncan Sheik.

14-year-old Leonard Pelkey has gone missing, and the tight knit townspeople desperately yearn for a resolution.  Each resident we meet has their own take on the tragic situation and reveals their personal relationship or perception of Leonard and the role he played in their lives and community.  Some tried to caution him to tame his flamboyance, but Leonard, literally, marched to his own drum.  He wasn’t afraid to put himself out there, as evidenced by the pride he took in parading about in colorful platform sneakers he designed that to others were over the top.  He was a gentle, sociable, gay soul who touched many, until his short teenage life was brutally ended.   

In a word….bravo!  This is a total tour-de-force for Lecesne.  From the moment he steps out, we are fully focused on the characters he effortlessly and convincingly inhabits.  With some quick body spins, he shifts from case investigator Chuck DeSantis to Ellen Hertle, Leonard’s aunt/local hairdresser; to Phoebe, Ellen’s awkward daughter, to Buddy Howard, a Brit who heads a drama school who attempted to nurture Leonard’s artistic side, to Gloria Salzano  who made a vital contribution to the investigation; to Marion Tochterman, who supported Ellen when she was asked to identify Leonard’s corpse; to Otto, a German watch shop proprietor, who took a liking to Leonard and gave him a pocketwatch; to others.  His voice changes, his body language and facial gestures morph, and we are swiftly in the presence of many.

The multi-talented Lecesne is not only a captivating solo performer, his written word….and not a one is wasted here….is at times funny, poignant, insightful, and the 80 minute show (no intermission) moves along seamlessly. 

We come to care for Leonard, even though we never meet him.  We feel like we have….and we wish we could.  And, we hope that he did not die in vain.  And, even more, while not a “stand on your soapbox” or call to action piece, we do hope that at least one of the takeaways from this tale is that differences are to be embraced! Leonard would have liked that, as would Lecesne, who on a personal level, is an avid advocate.

James Lecesne (writer/performer) is co-founder of The Trevor Project, the only national 24-hour crisis intervention and suicide prevention Lifeline for LGBT and Questioning youth. He wrote the screenplay for the Academy Award winning short film, Trevor, which inspired the founding of the organization. James has created several solo shows including Word of Mouth, which was presented by Mike Nichols and Elaine May and directed by Eve Ensler (NY Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle Award) and the acclaimed One Man Band. Acting credits include Cloud 9 (Lucille Lortel), The 30th Anniversary production of Boys in the Band (Lucille Lortel), I Am My Own Wife (Hartford Stage), Motherhood Out Loud (Primary Stages) and Gore Vidal’s The Best Man on Broadway. For television, he adapted Armistead Maupin’s Further Tales of the City for Showtime (Emmy nomination) and was a writer for “Will and Grace”.  His play, The Mother of Invention, which starred Linda Lavin, premiered at NY Stage and Film. His young adult novel, Absolute Brightness, published by Harper Collins, received The William Morris Award by the American Librarian Association and was nominated for The Lambda Literary Award. 

absoluteposterTHE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD PELKEY is running though March 28th.  Tickets are $18 and may be purchased by calling (212) 219-0736 or by visiting Dixon Place is located at 161A Chrystie Street (between Rivington and Delancey), in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.  Visit

Note: As an aside, the arty poster for the show is just beautiful….by Jerry Marsini!

Dixon Place, an incubator for performing and literary artists since 1986, is a non-profit organization committed to supporting the creative process by presenting original works of dance, theater, music, puppetry, literature, performance and visual art at all stages of development. Presenting over 700 artists each year, Dixon Place’s foremost priorities are to serve as a safety net for artists, and to provide vivid experiences for audiences. 

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