|The cast of The Boys Next Door. Photo – Bunbury Theatre.|
The Boys Next Door
By Tom Griffin
Directed by Juergen Tossman
Reviewed by Brian Walker
Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Brian Walker. All rights reserved.
The Boys Next Door by Tom Griffin is a play that explores the complexities of living with developmental disabilities, through both the eyes of people who are disabled and the people who care for them. It centers on an assisted living apartment facility where four men who are mentally handicapped share a flat. Lucien (Clyde Tyrone Harper), Arnold (Dion Kohler Jr.), Norman (Chase Gregory) and Barry (Westley Yunker) are all men with minor disabilities who share an apartment; and Jack (Craig Brauner) is their caregiver. The disabled men struggle with the facets of daily life, like going to the grocery store and standing up for themselves in the workplace; while Jack struggles with the reality of his job and how much longer he can handle the stresses that go along with it. The script is really just a series of short vignettes that show the men in their lives over the course of a few months. It moves along quickly, using humor through most of the first act to frame its characters, but takes until the second act to really see the arch of the play and where these characters are heading.
The performances are all very good with not a weak link in the bunch. Chase Gregory shines as Norman. He manages to find the humor without going for the laughs and has some very touching moments with Sheila (Ainsley Peace), a disabled woman he’s attracted to. I found myself looking forward to him coming back onstage.
Clyde Tyrone Harper was also quite good as Lucien, another resident who has to testify in front of the State Senate in order to keep his “disabled” status. He hits a moment of sublime when he delivers a monologue that is in Lucien’s head. He says the words he would say if only he had the communication skills to deliver them, and it was wonderful – the entire audience was on the edge of their seats.
Brad Castleberry gives a chilling performance as Mr. Klemper, the father of one of the residents, who hasn’t seen his son in nine years. His appearance turns the mostly comedic script very serious, and he elicited several gasps from the audience during his brief but impactful scene.
Director Juergen Tossman does a fine job with the material. The staging is economical and makes good use of the realistic set. He never allows his actors to fall into caricature or melodrama, which could be an easy trap with the script.
Some minor quibbles are all technical, the largest being with the lights. With such a fabulous grid to work with, it’s inexcusable to me for there to be such large voids of dark as were present when I saw the show. Simply put: many moments were lost because the actors’ faces were not properly lit. I know, I know – the actors need to find their light; but I’m fairly certain that it wasn’t that. The lights weren’t focused properly, leaving large swatches of the stage dark while other parts were well lit. Also, if you’re going to have a refrigerator on stage, you have to stock it. It totally took me out of the piece when the actors would open it and there was nothing save what they were directed to retrieve.
All and all, this is a lovely production with some genuine moments that will pull at your heartstrings and make you think. It inspires empathy and respect for our disabled communities in a way that doesn’t beat you over the head with politics or over-sentimentality.