Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Off-Broadway Theater Review: The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey

James Lecesne. Photo: Courtesy of Polk PR
Seeing a Neighborhood and One’s Self Through the Life of One Boy
By Lauren Yarger
You might not be able to get tickets to Broadway’s sold-out sensation Hamilton, which opened last week, but take heart. Summer is a great time to check out what is playing Off-Broadway in New York, and The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey would be a satisfying way to spend a night at the theater.

The solo play, written and performed by James Lecesne (writer of the Academy Award-winning film “Trevor”), offers 90 minutes of consummate storytelling that ranges from comic to grim and haunting. It is the story of the disappearance of Leonard Pelkey,  a 14-year-old boy from a small New Jersey town, and Lecesne plays the numerous characters who tell the tale.

There is Chuck, the police detective, who is alerted to Leonard’s disappearance by his aunt Ellen, her daughter Phoebe and a number of other characters who share information with the detective as he tries to put the pieces together. Lecesne, directed by Tony Speciale (who also directed Absolute Brightness at its limited run at Dixon Place earlier this year), portrays sharply defined characters without having to resort to props or accents, as is the downfall of so many one-man shows.

Each one comes from the heart and develops to give us a picture of Leonard, a gay teenager who dared to be different,” and the effect he had on those who knew him – and even those who didn’t, like Chuck. We never knew him, but feel as though we did, and it’s hard to feel that this play isn’t based on a true story (which it isn’t.)

“Evil can happen anywhere. Even here,” we’re told. And we believe it.

The story could probably use some tweaking as far as writing a script goes – some more details would be helpful along the way -- but there certainly are questions (many about the role of evil in our society) to be answered and sense of mystery that fills the air on Jo Winiarski’s stark set with desk, blackboard and other indications of a detective squad room. Amusing sound effects designed by Christian Frederickson, animation and photography by Matthew Sandager, projection design by Aaron Rhyne and original music by Duncan Sheik (of Spring Awakening fame) round out the atmosphere.

A portion of ticket sales will be donated to The Trevor Project, a national suicide and crisis intervention network for at-risk LGBTQ children.

The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey continues through Oct. 4 at the Westside Theatre,  Downstairs, 407 West 43rd St., NYC. Performances are Monday, Tuesday Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets $85: http://absolutebrightnessplay.com212-239-6200.

Christians might also like to know:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Language

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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