‘Absolute Brightness’ of being true to yourself

By Jean Lowerison | Theater Review

Inspiration for The Trevor Project graces The Old Globe stage in one-man show

For my money, there’s no better theater than a single good storyteller. The Old Globe has found a splendid one in James Lecesne, now performing at the Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre through Oct. 29 with his one-man show “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey.”

Don’t let that gobstopper of a title keep you from this terrific one-act show, which is based on Lecesne’s 2008 young-adult novel “Absolute Brightness.”

James License (shown in all three photos) performs multiple characters in the one-man show, “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” at The Old Globe. (Photos by Matthew Murphy)

It’s a police yarn in which Lecesne plays nine parts. “The dark side is my beat,” says the narrator, police detective Chuck DeSantis, working in a “god-forsaken precinct down the Jersey Shore.”

One day, Chuck gets a visit from Ellen Hertle, owner of the Hair Today salon. Ellen reports the disappearance of her (sort of) nephew, 14-year-old Leonard Pelkey, who has been living with her and her daughter Phoebe since his mother died.

Licesne produced a short fi lm that inspired The Trevor Project, and proceeds from this play will support the organization. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

This starts an investigation that will have Chuck talking to a diverse bunch of local citizens — like Buddy Howard, the slightly fey teacher at the Buddy Howard School for Drama and Dance, who mentions Leonard’s “jazz hands” and notes that the boy has been cast as the fairy sprite Ariel in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”

Ellen later remembers that Leonard wore rainbow platform sneakers, which he constructed from glued-together flip-flops. He’s been known to tell the ladies at Ellen’s salon (where he worked) to update their lipstick and buy a smart little black dress.

Ellen’s “16-going-on-45” daughter Phoebe sums Leonard up this way: “Leonard is totally weird.”

(Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Otto Beckerman, owner of the local watch and clock repair shop, laments that “time was when all clocks had faces. I tell you they’re killing time — and also my business.” Otto also notes that Leonard wore pink and green capri pants. “Capri, he tells me, is short for capricious. Even when he is not here, he makes me laugh.”

Lecesne doesn’t bother with sets or costume changes.

In the middle of this in-the-round theater is a table with several items connected in some way to Leonard. But he surrounds his story (which turns out to be a murder investigation) with eccentric but extremely engaging characters, morphing from one to another by simply wheeling around and changing voice and stance.

It’s a real tour de force.

There is, of course, a message here as well.

Lecesne won an Oscar for his 1994 short film “Trevor,” about a troubled youth. That film was the impetus for The Trevor Project, which focuses on suicide prevention among LGBT youth.

Leonard may have been “weird,” but he is shown to have led by example in terms of having the courage to be true to yourself.

If you’ve been waiting for a play to just tell you a good story, your wait is over.

—Jean Lowerison is a long-standing member of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and can be reached at

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