Tom Griffin’s 1983 play The Boys Next Door is about four mentally challenged men in a group home. Falcon Theatre is staging the heartwarming drama with a cast of talented local actors directed by Jared Doren. (The show was a 1980s off-Broadway hit, a production at the Cincinnati Playhouse in 1990 and a 1996 made-for-TV movie.)
Humor is the emphasis in Griffin’s sensitive script. Doren’s able cast captures each individual with detailed, amusing performances. Michael C. Potter makes obsessivecompulsive Arnold a stream of fast-talking twitches and non-sequiturs, while David A. Levy’s Norman is a sweetly innocent guy who obsesses about donuts. Ken Early portrays profoundly retarded Lucien as a gentle, caring man overwhelmed by daily life, and Brian Jones inhabits Barry’s paranoia, posing as a golf pro to retreat from his abusive past.
The production could be improved with more sense of ensemble. Each actor has created a vivid portrait, but their coherence is threaded together mostly by monologues from their weary caretaker Jack (Ted Weil). Of course, these men who are boys live in their own heads more often than not, so this is a challenge of their story. Only occasionally are we shown their emotional connections — as when Lucien tries to pay Barry for golf lessons with a handful of buttons.
Nevertheless, this production makes audiences laugh in a loving way. Potter’s misfit Arnold tries to run away from conflict and ends up a scared child who must be rescued. But even more, The Boys Next Door can surprise you, such as when Jones’ Barry cowers in the presence of his brutal father (Don Volpenheim).
Especially profound are moments when characters’ inner emotions are revealed without the overlay of their disability. Early’s inarticulate Lucien speaks eloquently of his frustration, and Levy’s awkward Norman dances effortlessly with Sheila (Nicole Tuthill). At these moments, we recognize how much we have in common with these “boys,” and it’s powerful.
THE BOYS NEXT DOOR is presented by Falcon Theatre at Newport's Monmouth Theatre through Oct. 25. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.