‘The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey’ brightens up Laguna

By Jackie Moe

Academy Award-winning film writer James Lecesne has been on the go for more than 20 years, pulling out all the stops in a one-man mission to spread awareness for LGBTQ rights and acceptance.

The activist began a revolution with his 1995 short film “Trevor,” which spotlighted bullying of gay young people and picked up an Academy Award for best live action short. In 1998, Lecesne founded the Trevor Project, a popular 24-hour crisis and suicide prevention helpline for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth.

Now, Lecesne will close the Laguna Playhouse’s season with his one-man play “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey.” Directed by Tony Speciale, with music by Duncan Sheik, the play will open with previews on Wednesday, June 7 through Saturday, June 10, and regular performances June 11-25.

The play tells the story of a 14-year-old boy named Leonard Pelkey who goes missing in a small New Jersey town. Lecesne takes on the role of six different characters, including the narrator, detective Chuck DeSantis, who is following the missing case.

Through investigative questioning of the people who have been acquainted with Leonard – who is considered different from other boys his age because of his flamboyance and fashion – the audience learns about the boy who made a positive impact on his community during his short life. Although the story has a grim setting with sad circumstances, Lecesne said the play has a lot of humor and a strong and optimistic message to it.

“There’s an enlightenment that happens when you learn about this young boy who didn’t ‘tone it down’ the way that we all feel we have to in the adolescent process of figuring out who we are,” Lecesne said. “Because Leonard is the one character in the play that you don’t see, it fires up everyone’s imagination to relate it to themselves or someone they know.”

Adapted from Lecesne’s 2008 young adult novel “Absolute Brightness,” the play opened in July 2-15 at the off-Broadway Westside Theatre where it completed a successful five-month run.  Lecesne said he felt the urge to bring the story to the stage because he wanted to reach out beyond young adults.

“A lot has happened in the world since the book came out, especially in terms of younger people with bullying,” Lecesne said. “I thought theater would be a great avenue to get people to start looking at what their responsibility is of looking after these young people and making sure they have the support they need so they don’t have to fend for themselves.”

The set is simple: a police interrogation room with the evidence laid out on a table, a one-way mirror and videos that show other pieces of evidence and a blurred photo of Leonard. Lecesne said he does not use costumes and keeps the set as simple as possible with very little scene changes, because he wants audience members to use their imagination.

“The audience gets to be the set designer, they get to be the costume designer, they get to use their imaginations and see the things I’m giving them. … It’s a clear prompt to use their imagination in such a lively and vital way so that they bond with the story on their own terms.”

Lecesne has taken the solo play to various parts of the country, and when he has downtime during his travels, he said he visits local high schools to talk to the students in the Gay-Straight Alliance clubs. Since he has been on this mission over two decades, Lecesne said he has seen many positive changes in the younger generations in regards to acceptance for the LGBTQ community.

“I’m learning so much from them; this particular generation. So full of hope, so resourceful,” he said .”They have a unique view on gender and sexuality that I don’t think people have any clue what’s coming down the pipe.

“I am trying to figure out what to do with that … how I might be able to share some of that information with people theatrically that may inspire older people to have faith in younger people, and inspire younger people to have faith in themselves.”