THE BASICS: THE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD PELKEY, a one-man show by James Lecesne presented by Buffalo United Artists, directed by Todd Warfield, starring Jimmy, runs through March 30, Fridays and Saturday at 8 at the Alleyway Theatre, One Curtain Up Alley (886-9239). Soda pop available before and after the show. www.buffalounitedartists.org Runtime: 75 minutes with no intermission
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS is about the disappearance of Leonard Pelkey, a 14-year-old boy who dared to be different, and the small New Jersey town that will never be the same without him, a story told by the detective assigned to the case, and the people who knew him. All nine roles (although none of them are Leonard Pelkey) are played by Jimmy Janowski.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: In his playbill bio, Jimmy Janowski writes: “A one man show is a lonely animal with unique pluses and minuses: on the plus side you can’t blame anyone for forgetting your cue or stepping on your laugh line… on the minus… CAST PARTRIES ARE A BORE!” Fortunately, BUA and the Alleyway have a very nice tradition of the cast coming to the lobby for a meet’n’greet right after every show where Janowski was, as he always is, the very soul of grace and charm.
Often on stage, Janowski performs in drag, notably in his past shows portraying Cleopatra and also Joan Crawford, where his costumes and characters were exaggerated and demanded all of our attention in a campy way. But here, he appears in plain gray pants and “Charlie Sheen” shirt because the costume doesn’t matter. It’s the touching, intimate miniature portraits he creates that matter, so the plain gray is almost the costume of a puppeteer, intentionally unobtrusive.
But, oh, those portraits, from the grizzled detective “Chuck,” to his annoying co-worker “Marty,” to Leonard’s aunt, the hair salon owner “Ellen” and her embarrassed 16-year-old-daughter “Phoebe,” to “Buddy” who runs the local theater school where Leonard was the star student, to “Gloria” the mob wife with the lake house, to “Marion” the late middle aged cigarette smoking widow (think of the actress Selma Diamond) who spoke for all the middle aged women who looked to Leonard for fashion advice, to “Otto” the clock shop owner who got a second chance to be a dad, to “Travis” the teenager in trouble.
It’s smart, up-to-date, funny, sad, moving and, to quote Selma Diamond’s character on the old TV sit-com “Night Court” after she had returned from seeing a Broadway play described her experience by quoting the publicity poster: “I laughed; I cried; it became a part of me.”
Yes, it was and I did.
After the show, in the lobby, director Todd Warfield said that this play is for everyone who was bullied as a teenager which, to a greater or lesser extent, is everybody. I had to agree, because bullies aren’t born that way. They become bullies when they are bullied.
This play is for everyone who was bullied as a teenager which, to a greater or lesser extent, is everybody.
The show was expertly stage-managed by Jessica Yost, with very tight lighting, musical, and rear-stage projection cues. By the end of the evening, all nine characters will be in your head, and very real, and you’ll ask yourself “was there really only one actor on that stage?”
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!