‘ The Boys Next Door’ has right mix of silly and somber
WARREN — There’s never a wrong time to be reminded of our humanity, that need we all share to be valued, respected and loved, and “The Boys Next Door,” now at 2nd Story Theatre, is a play that does just that.
On the surface, it’s funny. But there also is a serious side, which gives it substance and staying power in our thoughts as well as on stage. Rhode Islander and former Trinity Rep actor Tom Griffin wrote it some 30 years ago, and in 1989 it was the most produced play in America, Los according to a piece in the Angeles Times.
The story is about four mentally handicapped men who live in a group home, and the dedicated but burned-out social worker, Jack, who supervises them.
His charges are Arnold, selfdescribed as anxious but also compulsive and hyperactive, employed as a janitor at a movie theater; sweet but intellectually limited Norman, who can’t resist the doughnuts baked at the shop where he works; Lucien, a middle-aged man with the mind of a 5-year-old; and Barry, intelligent but schizophrenic, who thinks he is a golf pro.
There is, of course, more to each man’s personality and existence, and their stories are told in vignettes that comprise the roughly two-hour play. As we follow them men through their everyday lives, their behavior is sometimes funny, like Norman’s attraction to those doughnuts, and other times poignant, as in Lucien’s child-like pride in having a library card and checking out a stack of books, which he can’t read.
There also are moments that are somber, like Arnold’s efforts to understand and navigate his workplace, and the horrible relationship between Barry and his long-absent father. Director Ed Shea stages the drama affectively; it stings, but it’s not over done.
As the residents of the group home, Luis Astudillo (Arnold), Marlon Carey (Lucien), Joe Henderson (Norman) and Frank Iaquinta (Barry) create distinctive personalities without falling victim to caricature. Each approach is well thought out, but the emotional resonance is uneven, a result, perhaps, of the episodic nature of the storytelling.
As Jack, Christian O’Brien seems almost too restrained. Watching over the men in this group home can be frustrating, and while Jack tells us about his burnout, his body language doesn’t reflect a weari- ness that would go with it.
There is, however, something in each character with which we sympathize. There are plenty of laughs and an equal number of thoughts worth pondering. It’s a satisfying mix. Performances of “The Boys Next Door” continue Thursdays through Sundays through Oct. 29 at 2nd Story Theatre, 28 Market St. Tickets are $40, or $25 for persons under 25. To buy tickets and select 2ndstorytheatre.com, seats, visit or call the box office at 401-247-4200.
Ashley Hunter Kenner, right, and a star-studded cast, delivers in 2nd Story Theatre’s performance of “The Boys Next Door,” which runs Thursdays through Sundays through Oct. 29. Tickets are $40, or $25 for persons under 25. For tickets, visit 2ndstorytheatre.com or call the box office at 401-247-4200.