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  WINDY CITY TIMES

THEATER REVIEW The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2019-04-07

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Playwright: James Lecesne

At: American Blues Theater at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets: AmericanBluesTheater.com or

773-654-3103; $19-$39. Runs through: April 27

We never meet the title character.

That's because Leonard Pelkey, like Marley, is dead at the beginning of our story—murdered 10 years earlier, at the age of 14. Testimony regarding the victim's final days paint a picture of an adolescent boy whose effeminate mannerisms elicit warnings from his acquaintances to "tone it down"—advice he roundly rejects. In the blue-collar culture of small-town New Jersey, this can only end badly.

Our narrator is local detective Chuck deSantis, who recounts the facts behind the decade-old case with a hard-boiled eloquence reminiscent of noir fiction, tempered by unexpected lyrical flourishes that he attributes to his recent study of Shakespeare. The witnesses offering information leading to the discovery of the criminal ( as well as opinions on its underlying source ) encompass such colorful regional archetypes as a no-nonsense hairdresser, her meek teenage daughter, a sullen video-game enthusiast, a prissy British-expat professor, an elderly German-immigrant watchmaker and two widows ( one with mob connections ).

Oh, did I mention that all of these roles, and a few more besides, are played by American Blues company member Joe Foust? Don't for an instant mistake James Lecesne's play for a facile stunt-turn, replete with quick-change mugging, though. The offstage bellowing of a fellow officer and the gravel-throated growl of a heavy tobacco smoker may have brought forth chuckles from the opening night audience, but these were quickly eclipsed by the compelling procedural under way.

Is this a whodunit, then? Is it a hagiographical account of another martyr in the chronicles of gay history, an inspirational sermon on the healing powers arising from tragedy, or a lesson in the evils of intolerance? Whatever label you affix to this 75-minute monologue is up to you, of course, but what is undeniable is the wholesale commitment that Foust bestows on each of his diverse personae, rendering their individual attributes so distinctive that, at the moment of crisis, we need only hear the messenger's voice to identify the bearer of the final clue resolving the mystery.


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