Eric D. Snider

The Boys Next Door

Theater Review

"The Boys Next Door," at The Villa Playhouse Theatre

by Eric D. Snider

Published on February 23, 2001

Despite its unusual subject matter -- mentally handicapped adults -- "The Boys Next Door" is an accessible, enjoyable play.

The show, focused on characters more than plot, takes place a group home inhabited by four men. Arnold (Devin Asay) is an extremely high-strung, precise man whose retardation is mild. Norman (Andrew Hunsaker) is also pretty functional, working in a doughnut shop and pining for another handicapped adult, Sheila (Emily McFadyen).

At the other end of the spectrum is Lucien (Bart Nutt; double-cast with Bob Colomb), with a mental capacity, we're told, "somewhere between a 5-year-old and an oyster."

Rounding out the bunch is Barry (Brian McFadyen), who is not retarded but is schizophrenic. He's convinced himself he's a golf pro and tries to give lessons to anyone who will sit still long enough.

Supervising the men is Jack Palmer (Nathan Mathews), a burnt-out social worker who considers the guys his best friends despite his personal dissatisfaction with life.

The story is slight, offering us little vignettes from the men's lives with a few ongoing plots. Most important is the upcoming visit from Barry's estranged father (Daryl Tucker), a hunched-over, ape-like brute who is the least convincing character in the play.

Also significant is Lucien's having to testify at a senate subcommittee hearing in order to get his government support money back. Bart Nutt is very sweet in this role, conveying Lucien's child-like nature without making fun of the mentally handicapped.

That is the danger in such a play. There's a fine line between acting a role and doing an impression of someone; in this case, acting would seem real, while impersonating would be awkward for the audience. But director Kathleen Nutt (who has directed the show before) leads the cast through most of the pitfalls.

A few elements are a little rough. The aforementioned scene with Barry and his father lacks most of the punch it should have had, and Jack's personal life seems quite underdeveloped (not to mention irrelevant). But the plusses outweigh the minuses. Brian McFadyen's Barry is a subtle and touching character. Since Barry is the one closest to reality, he's the one most vulnerable to it. His interaction with the others is limited, making him appear even more isolated than he is. Devin Asay and Andrew Hunsaker also shine in their roles, giving the show a warm ensemble feel.

Grade: B+

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