BCP, PFLAG to present ‘The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey’ for Pride

Donny Avery will play all nine characters in Beaumont Community Players’ “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey,” June 17 and 18. Photo by Andy Coughlan

When a 14-year-old boy is reported missing, a New Jersey detective takes the case. As he interviews family and friends, he, and the audience, discover how the boy inspired the people whose lives he touched.

The Beaumont Community Players and PFLAG are teaming up to present “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey,” June 17 and 18, as part of Pride month. BCP executive director John Manfredi said the organization is thrilled to participate in Pride festivities.

“We always wanted to be a venue for the whole month for events. So, this is a step in the right direction,” he said.

The play has nine characters, all played by Donny Avery. The main character is detective Chuck DeSantis, who is approached by someone to report a missing person — Leonard Pelkey.

“(Leonard) actually never appears, but they all talk about him throughout the whole show,” Avery said. ”He’s a 14-year-old boy. I don’t think anyone says that he was gay, but he definitely is homosexual. And he loves himself so much. He is who he is. He wants to do what he loves. He’s in theater. He wears bright colored shoes.”

As DeSantis interviews people for his investigation, the audience begins to learn more about Leonard.

“They all say the same thing — how full of life he was, and how bright he was, and how much positivity he brought to everyone,” Avery said.

The characters say they tried to tell Leonard to hide who he is, that if he keeps being who he is he will get hurt.

“You know, back in the early days, when I came out when I was 18, it was like, ‘You know, yeah, sure, be out. But you can’t do that here,’” said Avery, a Groves native. ”They always try to rein you in, like you can’t be yourself. And Leonard is always someone who’s himself no matter what.”

Donny Avery will play all nine characters in Beaumont Community Players’ “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey,” June 17 and 18.

The play has some serious themes as the show progresses, but Avery said the audience finds out what Leonard brought to people’s lives, and how much happiness he brought to the world in general.

“I love that part about it,” Avery said. “It’s so heartwarming and touching and funny. All the characters are pretty, pretty funny.”

The production is an enhanced staged reading, where the actor moves around the stage but still works from a script.

“(It’s) a reading, but turned up to 11,” Avery said.

Avery is also BCP’s box office manager, as well as an actor and director, and he brought the script to Manfredi.

“I’m involved in PFLAG and BCP heavily, and with PFLAG, we do all these things throughout the year, especially leading up to Pride,” Avery said. “I’ve wanted to do this for a few years now, where BCP did a production of something that might not be as well known, but something that focuses on the LGBTQ+ community — something we might not do in a regular season.”

Avery said he was looking for something small and simple, when he received an email that “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” was available. He was unfamiliar with the play but liked the title, so he ordered the script and loved it. As it happens, Manfredi was familiar with the playwright, James Lecesne, who now goes by Celeste Lecesne.

“I don’t not personally know him, but I know of him because of a play called ‘Word of Mouth,’ and he won an Outer Critics Circle award,” Manfredi said. “I liked that play very much. So, when Donny said to me, I’ve got a play by this person, that was the hook.”

Manfredi said audiences will enjoy the format of the show.

“It’ll be funny, entertaining and poignant all at the same time,” he said. ”We’ll play with it. It’ll be theatrical, but it’s going to be fun. People will have a great time.”

The play will be presented June 17 and 18 at 7:30 p.m. and is just over an hour with no intermission. Tickets are $15 and are available at the beaumontstages.com or at the theater’s box office. A talkback will follow each performance.

This story first ran in the June 10, 2022 Art of Living magazine of The Beaumont Enterprise.

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