A greater appreciation for ‘what life is like for young people’

Keith Randolph Smith plays lead role in City Theatre play

KEITH RANDOLPH SMITH stars in “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey,” playing through Feb. 18 at the City Theatre.

Keith Randolph Smith has invested more than 30 years in his acting career. A native of Cleveland, his acting was nurtured by Karamu House Theatre (the oldest Black theatre company in the U.S.) and Cuyahoga Community College with additional studies at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. He signed his first contract with Karamu House, where he was cast in “Raisin in the Sun.” Consequentially, he began auditioning in the Big Apple in 1986.
Since then Smith has appeared on Broadway and regional theater; regional theater such as City Theatre provides opportunities to be in a world premiere and originate roles that could be could be the standard. Such is the case when he was in a world premiere production of “In Walks Ed” by Keith Glover; it was nominated for a 1997 Pulitzer Prize.
Other stage credits include “Fences,” “King Hedley II,” “The Piano Lesson,” and “Jitney.” The film credits include Malcolm X and Girl 6 (Spike Lee) and Backstreet Justice. Perhaps you caught him on TV in Law & Order, Cosby, New York Undercover, or you might recognize his voice as Clay Simons in Grand Theft Auto.
Smith returns to City Theatre in a one-man drama, “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey.” He plays Chuck DeSantis, a detective working a case about the disappearance of 14-year old Leonard Pelkey with the help from the community. As he interviews townspeople for any information that could provide a clue to help solve the mystery, DeSantis gains insight not only on the teen, but also the community that adores him.
“I love the story of being just who you are in spite of the world’s efforts to want you to be something other than yourself. Leonard is a teenager and is a role model to me and all who encounter him,” Smith says. “I was also interested in testing myself in the one-person format of storytelling. I have been in one other one-person show and since it was a while ago, I wanted to accept this challenge and learn what I can from the experience. I love the writing of this play and all of the characters that we meet over the course of it.
“I believe that we leave the theater after witnessing this story with a greater appreciation and understanding of what life is like for young people and, for that matter, anyone who is considered different,” Smith said. “People of color have struggled in this country and in this world to express ourselves without fear of labels of any kind. Sometimes, unless you are blood-related to someone, we feel like anyone that is different from ourselves, is the other, when in reality, we are family.
“We have judgments about others that are based on our lived experiences and can be affected by our biases and learned responses and behavior. Acceptance of ourselves and others is what I feel will be the takeaway from this show.”
“The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” is now playing at City Theatre on the South Side through Feb. 18. For ticket information and performance schedules, contact the box office at 412-431-2489 or go to CityTheatreCompany.org.
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