Friday, August 18, 2017

The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey

Rich Hebert plays multiple characters in
“The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” on stage now at B Street Theatre.
Rudy Meyers Photography/Courtesy photo

It was a sad irony that we saw B Street Theatre’s B3 production of “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” on the horrible day of the Charlottesville violence.

The James Lecesne play tells the story of the murder of a gentle young gay man whose life made an impact on many people in the small town where he lived, but who had long been a victim of bullying in school.

It is described as “an affecting and entertaining treatment to the beauty of a world in which difference is celebrated rather than denigrated” — a lesson we would all do well to remember.

“The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” is a stunning solo performance by Rich Hebert, who tells of the disappearance, investigation and eventual murder of a 14-year-old boy known as much for his gentleness and kindness as he was for his “difference.”

Hebert starts the play as Chuck DeSantis, the world-weary detective in charge of the investigation, remembering that time 10 years ago when he worked on the Pelkey case. DeSantis is your stereotypical New Jersey cop, right off the pages of a “Law and Order” script.

In a flash he is no longer the cop, but the boy’s aunt, a beautician, who took him in when he was orphaned and raised him.

Leonard was an individualist, his aunt explains, who insisted on making his own shoes by gluing multi-colored flip-flop soles to his Converse high tops to give a rainbow effect and wearing eye shadow — though he knew it would make him the object of ridicule and bullying. He wanted to live life on his own terms and was willing to pay the price for that.

“He told me that if he stopped being himself, the terrorists would win.”

Then Hebert is her daughter, bitter over Leonard’s intrusion into their lives, but obviously tormented by his disappearance.

Throughout the play, Hebert plays many characters, male and female, young and old, whose statements, when put together, give us a pretty clear picture of Leonard, perhaps more clear than the only available photo him, which is quite blurry and shows only a hint of who he really is.

Hebert’s many character changes, including a British drama and dance teacher and a widowed moll, are amazing, as with only simple body language and voice modulation, he becomes a completely new character.

While the story centers around a tragedy that will bring a tear to the eye, there is a lot of joy, too, as we enter a world many of us may not be familiar with. Leonard, who works in his aunt’s salon, has many friends among the clientele, who try to help him fit in better.

“Tone it down, honey. The nail polish, the mascara — maybe not so much.”

As we look back on the events in Charlottesville and the hate that spawned it, we could all do well to think of Leonard and how much one “different” person can make an impact on those around him.

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