Eric D. Snider

The Boys Next Door

Theater Review

"The Boys Next Door," at Provo Theatre Company

by Eric D. Snider

Published on February 6, 2003

Tom Griffin didn't do anything spectacular when he wrote his dramatic comedy "The Boys Next Door," but he did give us a light-hearted play that takes a risk in its premise: It is about mentally retarded adults.

That the play dares to let them be funny is admirable; the temptation among over-reactionary types would be to assert that a comedy involving the mentally handicapped is automatically mocking those people. That the Provo Theatre Company production, directed by David Morgan, pulls it off without seeming to make fun of its subjects is also worthy of praise.

The setting is a group home supervised by Jack (Tom Nibley), a gaunt, graying man who loves the men he cares for but is feeling burnt out by his responsibility to them. First there is Arnold (Scott Wilkinson), whom Jack tells us is "marginal" as far as being retarded, but who is most definitely a nervous, obsessive sort of fellow. Norman (Steve Dunford) is high-functioning, works at a doughnut shop and has a sweet crush on Sheila (Kimberley Cote), who is also mentally challenged. Lucien (J. Tekulve Vann) is somewhat less able to function in society, a fact that comes into play when the government mistakenly concludes otherwise and discontinues his Social Security payments.

And then there's Barry (Christopher Clark), who is not retarded but schizophrenic. (He believes he is a golf pro.) Jack says he doesn't belong in the group home, and he certainly seems to be a world apart from his housemates. Late in the play, we meet Barry's uncaring father (Bob Nelson, understudying for Paul DeWitt), whose rough demeanor is the opposite of how the play believes men such as Barry ought to be treated.

Griffin clearly did not intend for the humor to be at the expense of the retarded characters, but it does stem naturally from the fact that they are retarded. That is to say, much of what's funny -- their reaction to a mouse in their apartment, Norman's obsession with keys, and so on -- would play out much differently if they were not mentally challenged. These characters happen to be, and the play honestly examines their particular foibles in a manner that is funny and at times even hilarious.

The play is little more than a series of vignettes, with only minor plot threads connecting them, and as such there is a feeling of fragmentation about it. But the acting is extremely well done, with each of the actors carefully -- and usually successfully -- balancing the line between portraying real people and becoming stereotypes.

It reaches its emotional peak in the scene between Barry and his father, a difficult conversation that plays out with the right mix of awkwardness and sensitivity. The comic zenith, meanwhile, is Norman's completely unhinged behavior while on a date with Sheila -- a date that consists of sitting in the apartment and discussing keys.

Not everything works -- Barry's conversations with his deaf neighbor seem farcical and out of place -- but much more is right about the play than wrong. It's a funny, gentle production.

Grade: B+

Stumble It!


What I wanted to say in the headline was, "'Boys Next Door' is one retarded play." No one went for that.

This item has 6 comments

  1. Leah says:

    I performed this play in high school. We switched the genders of the social worker to become a girl - Jackie - so that I could play her. I did 8 plays and musicals while in high school and this one is still my favorite. It was beautiful and sweet, and I cried real tears onstage and even more when I was off. Even now, 3 years later, reading parts of the script will make me tear up. This was a wonderful play.

  2. Harlan Gerdes says:

    I went to this play with four of my friends once. We went because we were bored and had some free time. It was a good play, good entertainment value, and it was a real eye opener for myself. It was funny in parts. But what really hit home was when I looked behind me in the theatre at one point and saw a group of mentally challenged people from a local group home.

  3. tigerarukwe says:

    i've done lots of events and well done plays.the play that was a big hit for me was character witness taking place in a court.boys next door -i've never done a play like this,but it is good to do play you are intrested and have goal of heart in.

  4. Lucy Studd says:

    If you do not understand this play it is due to your ignorance about the lonely lives of people with brain disorders. I find this piece brilliant. For those of you who laughed throughouut this play you dont't get it!!!

  5. Brianna Allen says:

    To especially Lucy Studd, I think perhaps *you* are misunderstanding the function of comedy and disability in this play. Let alone the fact that you've missed the function of theatre. This play is Jack's story. Look at the dramatic structure. It's his story and how he sees himself and "ableist" society impact these men's lives. Yes, this is perhaps a weak script regarding disability theory, but a key point to notice while watching this play is how much other people's views on the disability community impact these boys. I hesitate to even discuss the title "Boys Next Door" as it obviously has a connotation that the mentally disabled are demaculinized and labeled "Boys". If the audience laughed, it is not because they are laughing at the expense of the disability community or because they have missed a point somewhere. "Boys Next Door" is a play, meant to help you relate to these characters in a humanizing way--comedy is a very good way to do that--you don't have to CRY. If you cry, you are probably *sympathizing* towards them and not *empathizing* with them. And depending upon the production and the director's vision, the play should change your views on the mentally disabled. That is the point. Be careful wat you say, Lucy, because the disability community does not want your sympathy or for you to alienate the "able-bodied" audience to which this show is aimed. They want real characters portrayed humanely and realisticly.

  6. Scott says:

    I agree with Leah. I performed this play in high school, and although I may not have been as prolific as her, The Boys Next Door remains my favorite. I too play Jack, and cried onstage. The play is beautiful in the way it describes the lives of all the characters, and the audiences that we performed for feel that. As for the laughter, there was a sense at our performances that the audience didn't want to laugh. They thought 'No, those are mentally challenged people, and we've been taught that to laugh at them is wrong'. But what these people do and say is genuinely funny. The real change in my paradigm is that to not laugh at these people is to put away in a separate category, to put them off limits. At the cost of sounding cliche ... They're just people, too.

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