A search for a missing gay teen reveals The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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A search for a missing gay teen reveals The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey

Joe Foust deftly portrays the detective and all the parties in the investigation.

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American Blues Theater presents the Chicago premiere of this 2016 play by James Lecesne (best known as screenwriter of the 1994 film Trevor and cofounder of the Trevor Project, an organization focused on suicide prevention among LGTBQ youth). In this engaging work of theatrical storytelling, originally performed off-Broadway by Lecesne himself, ABT ensemble member Joe Foust portrays multiple roles under Kurt Johns's astute direction. The anchor character is Chuck DeSantis, a hard-boiled, middle-aged detective in a small working-class seaside town in New Jersey, who is investigating a missing person report that, tragically, turns into a homicide case. The victim is a gay 14-year-old boy, Leonard Pelkey, whose inability and unwillingness to tone down his flamboyant personality makes him a target for bullies.

As Chuck narrates the story in classic terse, wryly world-weary fashion ("I'm a detective. . . . The dark side is my beat"), he also takes on the personalities of the witnesses and suspects he interviews, including Leonard's distraught hairdresser guardian, her anxious adolescent daughter, the British-accented director of a community theater group, and a mob widow who finds a key piece of evidence—one of Leonard's homemade rainbow platform sneakers. Following the formula of classic film noir, Chuck's investigation leads him on a moral odyssey to comprehend the nature of good and evil. The focus of the tale is not Leonard himself as much as it is the survivors—those who loved him, those who feared him, and those who never knew him yet are affected by his life and death. Leonard himself never appears except as a blurred image projected on the back wall, but his beaming presence illuminates the story.

The burly Foust illustrates his multiple characters with deftly chosen gestures and vocal inflections, aided by the imaginative contributions of designers Grant Sabin (set), G. "Max" Maxin IV (visual projections), and Eric Backus (sound and music).   v

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