‘ The Boys Next Door’ has right mix of silly and somber

Woonsocket Call - - Arts/Entertainment - By KATHIE RALEIGH

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.

Photo cour­tesy of 2nd Story The­atre

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.

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