Metro Weekly

Editor’s Pick: The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey

Mike Thornton portrays 9 characters in the one-person drama, "Leonard Pelkey," written by the playwright who helped found The Trevor Project.

Mike Thornton -- Photo: André Chung
Mike Thornton – Photo: André Chung

In 2020, the writer/performer James Celeste Lecesne dropped the first name “James” and added the pronoun “they.”

Decades earlier, in 1995, Lecesne had made a name for themself by winning both a Drama Desk Award for their performance in the original one-person Off-Broadway show Word of Mouth, and an Academy Award, for their work in writing Trevor.

Named after a sweet, suicidal character from Word of Mouth, Trevor would go on to inspire Lecesne to launch, with the film’s director and producer, The Trevor Project, the national, 24-hour suicide-prevention helpline for LGBTQ youth.

“It’s incredible to me, one of the miracles of my life, that it’s actually still going,” Lecesne said of the organization in a 2010 interview with Metro Weekly. “It just seemed crazy to me that people weren’t mobilizing to save a precious resource — our young people.”

Leonard Pelkey is another Trevor-like character created by Lecesne, serving as the protagonist of their 2008 young adult novel Absolute Brightness as well as their theatrical adaptation, which had a successful run Off-Broadway in 2015, with music by Duncan Sheik.

The New York Times praised the work as “a dark tale that shimmers with the needling suspense you associate with the best police procedurals, or the likes of Gone Girl,” adding that it is “a superlative solo show [that will] leave you beaming with joy.”

A coterie of well-credentialed Washington theater artists has joined forces to stage a new production of the 70-minute play, led by director Bob Lohrmann, resident director of the Kennedy Center’s record-breaking hit Shear Madness, and producer Matty Griffiths, a founder of the short-lived LGBTQ-focused company The Actor’s Theatre of Washington.

Mike Thornton, a veteran performer and long-standing member of the recently disbanded political musical satire troupe The Capitol Steps, will portray nine characters — a mix of men, women, and one teenage girl — who were all deeply touched by Pelkey in his 14 short years on Earth.

Through their shared memories, the clearly special 14-year-old boy comes alive on stage.

Performances run Friday, June 3 to Saturday, June 11.

At the Spooky Action Theater, 1810 16th St. NW. Tickets are $37.

Click the link for ticket information or to make reservations: www.eventbrite.com.

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