THE BLOG
09/23/2015 08:27 pm ET Updated Sep 23, 2016

James Lecesne Shows His Absolute Brightness In His New Play The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey

When he was 15, James Lecesne was working as an apprentice at the Surflight Theatre on the Jersey Shore making, painting and moving sets. As he stood backstage getting ready to step into the darkness to move scenery he had an epiphany "I thought this is not going to work," recalls Lecesne. "I have to figure out how to get into the light."

The next day he approached the man who ran the theater pleading, "I'll do anything if I can just be in the next show." Wish granted. Lecesne was cast as one of the orphans in Oliver. "I also had to take care of like 15 little kids," he says. "I was the kid wrangler. But I got to be in the show so I didn't care."

At the time, Lecesne was grateful to escape for the summer from his town in Bergen County, New Jersey. As a gay teenager, he was adrift in his small community where nobody mentioned homosexuality and he didn't know anyone who was like him. "I grew up in a time when being homosexual was a sin, a crime and a mental illness," he says. "I always knew it wasn't a sin, a crime and a mental illness. What I was experiencing was beautiful, blessed and amazing. But my environment was not giving me those messages."

Stepping onto the stage would be transforming for young James Lecesne as he hungered for more. "Theater saved my life," he explains. "It allowed me a doorway to my authentic self and let me enter into a larger room where I could be more than this kid from New Jersey. I could be all these other people -- anything I wanted. I knew there was more in me than my circumstances were telling me that I was."

By the time he was in his 20s, Lecesne made his way to New York City. He didn't know anybody in the business and people weren't knocking down his door to give him acting work. So he decided to write a show and perform as different characters in a variety of accents. In his first show, a musical called One Man Band, Lecesne played all the characters, from an Iowa farmer to a New York City pigeon lady, while he had three backup singers. In fact, one of them was actress Vanessa Williams in her first professional gig. ("There are several characters here, all on a quest for love and understanding," said the glowing New York Times review.)

Lecesne traveled around the country with One Man Band for years and got other acting work, including a part on Sex and the City. In the 1990s, he wrote and starred in Word Of Mouth, produced by comedy legends Mike Nichols and Elaine May and directed by Eve Ensler. One of the characters in that show was a misunderstood teen named Trevor. The Diana Ross-obsessed outcast became the basis of a short film (Trevor) that Lecesne wrote and went on to win the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film.

An accomplished writer, Lecesne who penned one of the final episodes of Will & Grace, turned his young adult novel, Absolute Brightness into a dazzling new one-man show. In The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey, Lecesne plays all the characters including a bold saucy hairdresser, her teenage daughter, a New Jersey detective, a warm-hearted old jeweler and many others. Duncan Sheik wrote original music for the show. The story centers around the disappearance of Leonard Pelkey, a 14-year-old mostly misunderstood boy in his small New Jersey town -- and how he dares to find the courage to be his talented and uniquely creative self. "I wanted to talk to adults about what we can do in terms of taking care of kids -- all young people who are daring to be themselves," says Lecesne who currently performs the show at the Westside Theatre in New York City and will soon tour the play throughout the United States.

Read more about Lecesne as he answers questions in this story at Parade.com.

Visit www.absolutebrightnessplay.com for details about the Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey.