Review of The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey at The Midnight Company

    The Midnight Company’s Joe Hanahan is St. Louis’s leading exponent of solo performance. He burnishes his reputation for presenting one-actor shows in The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey.

    The play by Celeste Lecesne is an adaptation of their young adult novel, Absolute Brightness. Hanrahan plays Chuck DeSantis, a middle-aged, police detective in a small town on the Jersey Shore. His beat is “the dark side”: breaking and entry, homicide, missing persons.” He tells the audience about a case that immediately gave him “that feeling that tells you something ain’t right, something’s off.”

    The ten-year-old case is the disappearance of 14-year-old Leonard Pelkey. It is reported by his aunt, Ellen Hertle, the owner of the local beauty salon, and her daughter Phoebe. Leonard has been missing just under 20 hours, but Ellen and Phoebe are very worried.

    Ellen admits that Leonard isn’t really her nephew. He’s her brother’s ex-girlfriend’s son. Phoebe says Leonard is totally weird, but she likes weird. Also, Phoebe says Leonard is gay. Ellen thinks Leonard might not want that information given to strangers. Phoebe tells her Mom, “It’s the twenty-first century. No one cares.”

    Hanrahan’s gripping performance gives a distinctive manner to Chuck, Ellen, Phoebe, and the other six characters Chuck visits during his investigation. While trying to find out what happened to Leonard, Chuck learns what a remarkable person Leonard was. His positivity and flamboyance brightened the lives of others. Chuck never meets Leonard, but his influence on Chuck is clear in Hanrahan’s portrayal. The detective who might have stepped into the play from a film noir has a wholly different outlook on life at the end.

    The Midnight Company rarely ends its shows with announcements, but Hanrahan ends this show with an announcement about The Trevor Project, which Lecesne co-founded. The program for the show includes the following note: “The Trevor Project was the first nationwide 24-hour crisis intervention lifeline for LGBTQ youth, including phone, in-person and online life-affirming resources such as Trevor Lifeline, TrevorChat, Trevor Space, AskTrevor and Trevor Education Workshops. The 24-hour crisis intervention lifeline – 1-866-488-7386.”

    The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey continues at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays through May 20 at The Kranzberg Black Box Theatre, 501 North Grand Boulevard.

    —Gerry Kowarsky

    Photo by Joey Rumpell