Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey ***

After a successful run downtown, James Lecesne’s one-man show has moved to the Westside Theatre for a limited run. Lecesne adapted the piece from his young adult novel about a flamboyant 14-year old boy in a Jersey shore town who goes missing. The story is told from the viewpoint of the hardboiled detective who worked the case 10 years ago. Lecesne skillfully transforms in the blink of an eye to the various townspeople the detective interviews in the course of the investigation. These include Leonard’s tough-as-nails guardian Helen, who operates “Hair Today”, the local salon; her teenage daughter Phoebe, whose life has been adversely affected by Leonard joining the household; the fey British expat who runs the local drama and dance school; a philosophically inclined mob widow; an old watchmaker with regrets about the way he treated his own son; one of Helen’s girlfriends; and a local bully named Travis. Not since the early work of Anna Deavere Smith have I seen a performer portray so many distinct characters with such apparent ease. Lecesne won an Oscar in 1995 for his short film Trevor and was a founder of The Trevor Project, a hotline for LGBT youth, so he is familiar with his material. My enthusiasm was slightly tempered by Lecesne’s tendency to give some of his characters too many easy laugh lines and by the dash of sentimentality at the end. I felt the performance was better than the material. Jo Winiarski’s minimalist set design is enhanced by Aaron Rhyne’s projections. Duncan Sheik wrote the unobtrusive music. Tony Speciale’s (Unnatural Acts) direction is uncluttered. Running time: 75 minutes.

Note: Picking a good seat downstairs at Westside Theatre is dicey. There are four pillars that obstruct the view from some seats. Rows B and C have no risers above Row A. Moving backward from there, only every other row is on a riser. None of this shows up on a seating map, so I suggest you book by phone and ask questions.

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