PicksInSix Review: THE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD PELKEY
RAYMOND CHANDLER MEETS THE JERSEY SHORE
In a small town on the New Jersey shore, a story unfolds–Case #3684599, otherwise known as James Lecesne’s “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey”–about the disappearance of a 14-year-old boy as told by the detective who worked on the case, Chuck DeSantis, and an ensemble of eight other characters, all played by one actor. American Blues Theater’s Chicago premiere production is directed by Kurt Johns and showcases the talented Joe Foust as the singular storyteller in the crisp 90-minute drama now playing at Stage 773.
Lecesne, a crusader in support of LGBTQ issues, is the co-founder of the national organization “The Trevor Project,” inspired by his 1995 Academy Award-winning film “Trevor,” that has for more than two decades provided youth-crisis intervention and suicide-prevention services. Issues of gender identity, sexual orientation and freedom of expression course through this parable about a free-spirited boy who, in life, touched an entire community, while also addressing the impact of life-threatening bullying that has resulted in the rise of documented hate crimes in America.
The play is framed by the point-blank recollections of Chuck and the quest for clues to crack the case. We meet a vast array of fascinating and eccentric characters from Foust’s deep artistic well. When stylist Ellen Hertle arrives in Chuck’s office with her daughter Phoebe to file a missing person report, she describes her brother’s ex-girlfriend’s son, a special, sensitive boy who worked in her salon, Hair Today, who she took in after his mother’s death.
Evidence begins to mount first when Chuck visits Buddy Howard at his drama school and learns about the upcoming production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” in which Leonard will play Ariel. But the case breaks wide open when busy-body and mob widow Gloria Salzano reports physical evidence that turns the missing person case into a murder investigation.
All the while, Lecesne’s narrative rings as if ripped from the pages of a Raymond Chandler novel–with a Jersey Shore dialect–right down to the mysterious absence of a victim seen only in one out-of-focus image. Foust’s skillful and deliberate transitions in the telling mine the brilliant comedic and dramatic sensibilities of characters like the tough-talking Marion Totcherman, who found her new hair style with help from Leonard, and the German clockmaker Otto Beckerman, who recalled how much they enjoyed reading “David Copperfield” together, but who also warned Leonard about the lack of acceptance of his flamboyant lifestyle in the small community.
The stark office setting by scenic designer Grant Sabin is enhanced by Jared Gooding’s lighting and top-notch projections from Max Maxin. Travis Bihn’s costumes and Kevin Rolfs’s properties, and the work of composer/sound designer Eric Backus, create an absorbing atmosphere for the gifted Foust to render a spirited solo performance.
AMERICAN BLUES THEATER
THE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD PELKEY
through April 27, 2019
1225 W BELMONT AVE.
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