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Theatre Review: “The Absolute Brightness Of Leonard Pelkey” Proves An Excellent Vehicle For Veteran Actor Rich Hebert

Rudy Meyers Photography / B Street Theatre

Rudy Meyers Photography / B Street Theatre

The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” is a solo show featuring veteran actor Rich Hebert. He works mostly on the East Coast, but he’s appeared here in about a half dozen shows, including several at the Music Circus. I’ve learned to expect good things when I see Hebert’s name in the playbill. In this show, he plays an older cop from a smallish city on the Jersey Shore. As the play begins, the cop – recently retired -- recalls a notorious case he handled ten years earlier, which still haunts him.

“This is the case that put us on the MapQuest. It added to our Wikipedia entry. Got us Googled more than I can shake a stick. And what did we become known for? That’s right, evil.” 

The case involved a teenager named Leonard Pelkey – a kid marching to a different drummer, artistically inclined, sensitive, a budding actor, with an endearing habit of creating one-of-a-kind apparel for himself and others.

"He bought a half dozen pair of flip-flops down at Dollar Bob’s. He snipped off the bit that goes between your toes, and he glued each slab of flop to the bottom of a pair of Converse high-tops. He was so proud… I dunno, I told him, ‘You’re not actually planning on going outside with those things on your feet, are you?’ He said he was, he said it was a fashion statement. I said ‘In this town? People are bound to take one look at those sneakers, and see it as an invitation to chase you down the street with sticks!’ Did he listen to me? No.”

But one day, Leonard suddenly goes missing. A few days later, the cop gets a call from a lady who has found something.

“Gloria Salzano was a woman who lived in a big house, on the lake just outside of town. She had spotted a sneaker, floating in the lake. She made a call down to the station. The good news is that it was definitely one of Leonard’s sneakers. The bad news was Leonard wasn’t attached to it. Just to cover my bases, I made a call down to a couple of underwater divers down at the Atlantic City precinct. I had them search the bottom of the lake.”

The cop starts interviewing locals who spoke with Leonard in the days leading up to his disappearance. This gives actor Rich Hebert, who is quite versatile, a marvelous opportunity to serve up a kaleidoscopic gallery of different characters, both young and old, male and female, with different accents, attitudes and personalities. It becomes clear that many people knew Leonard, and liked him. It also becomes clear that Leonard’s singular lifestyle made him a target for local bullies.

Hebert is working from a script that gives him ample opportunity to show just how much he can do on stage. Watching this masterful actor at work is a treat, and he gives an outstanding performance, which is the main reason to see this very worthwhile show.

But I should also note in passing that this will be the final production in the B Street Theatre’s B3 Series, where they’ve mounted some of their most interesting work.

In a few months, the B Street will pack up and move to a new, more spacious venue, currently under construction. So this show marks the end of a chapter in the story of this popular theater company.

And with “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey,” B Street is closing out the B3 series with a solid production I’ll recall fondly for years to come.

Actor Rich Hebert will be performing “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” at Sacramento’s B Street Theatre through September 9.

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