The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey

Through Saturday,
April 21
Peace University’s Leggett Theater, Raleigh

For most of us, the prospect of spending an hour or so on stage, alone, before an audience of paying strangerswith no plan B and no chance of rescue from another actoris the stuff of nightmares. But for others, the scenario poses an irresistible theatrical dare.

Such a solo show takes more than acting chops and courage. It also requires a savvy director to mind the blind spots an actor can’t while performing. But on opening night, both actor and director in this Honest Pint production still had work left to do.

By now, David Henderson’s acting achievements hardly need repeating. Under Susannah Hough’s direction, we buy his rough-edged Detective DeSantis, who walks us through the story of the title character, a gay teenager who suddenly disappears in a small New Jersey coastal town. Henderson also finds the humanity in a widowed mob wife and an aging European watch repairman, both touched by the missing boy.

Elsewhere among the play’s nine characters, however, Henderson’s acting seems conspicuously mannered, riddled with choices that draw more attention to the performer than the characters. Leonard’s adult guardian, a hard-bitten beautician named Ellen, comes off as little more than a caricature, as does a fey Brit expatriate who runs the local drama and dance school. And Henderson conveys the reticence of geeky teen Phoebe, but little of the courage another character attributes to her.

Rough transitions further mar this gallery of characters, some of whom are finely crafted while others still seem sketched in.