Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey
Florida Studio Theatre
Review by William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of Into the Woods

Jeffrey Plunkett
Photo by Alexandria Hill
Florida Studio Theatre's Summer Mainstage series continues with The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey by James Lecesne. Leonard Pelkey is a flamboyant teenager in a "half-ass town down the Jersey shore." As the play begins, Leonard has gone missing and what has happened to him is not pretty. But we don't learn that until about half way through the play. What we do learn is how he has impacted the lives of seven members of the town—how their lives are changed and they are the better for him. The play is incredibly touching, reminding me of all that is good about America, how we reach out and help our neighbors and friends. It is a very uplifting play, and a perfect fit for the summer.

This production is propelled by a bravura performance by FST favorite Jeffrey Plunkett. Mr. Plunkett has given many fine performances at this theater before (Race, Sylvia, The Columnist, and recently in The Exonerated). This has been a season that has featured a number of stunning leading man performances, several at FST, and Mr. Plunkett's performance in The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey is certainly in that exalted league.

Our actor is required to play nine roles—four female and five male, of various ages. Whenever an actor is required to play that many characters, some roles will fit better than others and there are sometimes characters that are written more strongly than others. The character of Chuck DeSantis, a detective of many years standing, is our narrator and guide through the play. Mr. Plunkett understands the southern New Jersey persona, hailing from that area himself. One of the more amusing parts of the play is in the opening sequence when Mr. Plunkett has to jump between DeSantis and Marty Branahan, another officer who is showing some visitors in. Switching between the two is accomplished by a full turn in place. Other especially strong characterizations include Leonard's cousin Phoebe Hertle, clockmaker Otto Beckerman, and Travis Lembeck. He also gets deeply into the emotional core of Gloria Salzano who, while looking out at the ocean, discovers one of Leonard's special sneakers. All of the other roles are also well characterized. At the end I joined in a standing ovation, something I usually refrain from doing.

A performance like the one required here needs a strong relationship between actor and director. FST Associate Director and director of this production, Kate Alexander, has this chemistry with Jeffrey Plunkett, the two having worked together in many previous productions. She has helped Mr. Plunkett realize this extraordinary performance. She is a strong director working at the top of her game.

Scenic designer Stephen Dunham's set leaves about five feet of stage depth unused at the rear. This propels the entire show forward, increasing the intimacy level in the Keating Theatre. Uncredited projections are used sparingly and with clear purpose. Costume designer Adrienne Webber provides a single basic outfit, a dress sports shirt and a pair of casual pants. Changes from character to character are accomplished with a less is much more than more attitude and very few props (the obsequious raincoat for the detective and two different pairs of glasses). Lighting designer Mike Wood and assistant light designer Anthony LeFebvre help to provide variety among the characters. Sound designer Thomas Korp has done an excellent job, as I had no trouble hearing and understanding.

The emotional climate of The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey is an excellent fit for me, as I'm a sunny, optimistic person. In the end, it is uplifting. It is also one of the most completely satisfying productions that Florida Studio Theatre has offered recently. I cannot recommend it enough.

Florida Studio Theatre presents The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey through August 6, 2017, at the Keating Theater 1241 N. Palm Avenue, Sarasota FL. For tickets and performance information, please call the box office at (941) 366-9000 or visit

Cast: Jeffrey Plunkett*
*=Member of Actors' Equity Association

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