Neighbors are like relatives. You don’t get to choose them.
But, if you could, the motley (yet adorable) crew in The Boys Next Door might be your choice for the folks you would like to see in the next house over.
This warm and affecting comedy by Tom Griffin, which opened at Onstage in Bedford on Friday, deals with four mentally challenged men living in a group home supervised by Jack (Shane Beeson). Each member of Jack’s quartet has a different degree of difficulty when coping with the world, but all embrace life as well as they can manage.
There is Arnold (Nick Haley), an admittedly nervous individual who articulates his numerous problems with people outside the home in a string of hilarious rants. But he never stops trying, despite his frequent threats to pack his bags and take a train to Russia. On the script’s pages, Arnold is the funniest of the bunch, and Haley does a fine job of making good on that without overplaying the character. His physical mannerisms are particularly well measured.
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Norman (Allen Matthews) is a big teddy bear of a man who loves doughnuts and Sheila (Kim Winnubst), a woman from another group home. Lucien (Kwame Lilly) is the most severely disabled member of troupe, but he finds strength in his Spider-Man tie and is generally as game as any of his cohorts.
Barry (Travis Ponikiewski) stands out in this bunch because, compared to the other three, he appears the least troubled — if you overlook little things like his efforts to provide golf lessons for a rate of $1.13 per hour. But, sadly, Barry’s pain and mental anguish run deep. Of the four, he breaks your heart the most.
And then there is Jack, who serves as our guide and interpreter in the kaleidoscopic world of the boys. He is obviously well meaning and has a deep love for his all of his charges. But, just as obviously, he is burning out before our very eyes. That makes Jack’s part the toughest to play in this show, and Beeson rises to the occasion admirably.
This sweet, infinitely charming show may well be the best script ever written for community theater presentation. It is endearing, funny and achingly poignant. But, better still, it is also the sort of show that most theaters can handle.
This production, directed by Lon Barrera, usually makes the most of the material. Some of the players are a bit old for their parts but, in general, it is well cast. The quality of the acting is uniformly good. But the single aspect of this production for which Barrera deserves the most praise is keeping those portrayals at such even, complementary levels across the board.
All of his hilarity and heartbreak is played out on a gorgeous and well-appointed set by Kevin Brown.
The lone significant misstep in this production is one that will probably be obvious only to those who have seen other stagings of this script. At the end of Act 1, there is a scene at a party where Norman and Shelia share a dance. When done properly, this scene tears your heart out and hands it back to you. In this presentation, the scene makes no impression at all. It is a major opportunity missed.
This production’s only other sin is less damaging. While there is some effort to use music to smooth the script’s numerous scene changes, it needs more work in that area.
But, on the whole, this show pushes all the emotional and comic buttons. After you see it, you may never look at a doughnut or a key ring in exactly the same way again.