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Warm, Empathetic The Boys Next Door Mixes Laughs with Moments of Self-Realization

My first-ever acting teacher told our class that “Acting is a celebration of life, that’s it: a celebration of our own lives and those of others around us.” Tom Griffin’s The Boys Next Door — currently produced by Stageworks Theatre on Nov. 7-9 at the Holly Springs Cultural Center in Holly Springs and on Nov. 14-16 at the Fuquay-Varina Arts Center in Fuquay-Varina — is, indeed, a celebration of life — specifically, the lives of four young men with special needs who live in a group home (that could easily be “next door”) and a handful of people with whom they interact. Directed by Maggie Cook, this production serves up generous measures of smiles and laughter, as well as opportunities to experience some very important moments of warmth, empathy, and — yes — self-realization.

Tom Griffin’s script is a series of vignettes that illustrate the day-to-day lives of these characters, and these scenes are interspersed with a number of break-the-Fourth Wall chats that some of the characters have with the audience. As we hear about their lives and witness their foibles, we are reminded of a couple of lines from the theme song to the CBS sitcom Cheers: “Our troubles are all the same” and, more poignantly, “People are all the same” (my emphasis) .

The Story:

Jack Palmer is social worker who has been hired to supervise a total of 17 special-needs people who live in group homes. A major goal of his job, as he tells us, is to “introduce them into the mainstream.” In his initial monologue, Jack tells us “The truth is: they’re burning me out.” Later on, he shares the revelation: “You see, the problem is that they never change: I change, my life changes, my crises change, but they stay the same.”

We meet the “boys” on a day when Arnold Wiggins returns home from the grocery store, having been conned into buying several items that he clearly does not need. We soon meet Norman Bulansky, who works in a donut shop and has been gaining weight because of the availability of damaged donuts.

In addition, we meet Lucien P. Smith, who quite obviously cannot read but proudly brings home stacks of books from the library. The fourth young man is Barry Klemper, who fantasizes that he is a golf pro and actually gives “golf lessons”; his students, however, never sign up for more than one session.

As the action moves forward, we witness a few of Barry’s golf lessons. We also see further evidence that people take advantage of Arnold. We realize that Lucien is the most handicapped. And we attend two of the weekly dances that are organized for Jack’s wards. At these dances, a very touching romance develops between Norman and a shyly awkward, self-conscious girl named Sheila.

The lives of these people, for the most part, are peaceful and safe. However, two serious incidents threaten to introduce mayhem: a visit from Barry’s estranged father (who he has not seen for nine years) and a hearing to determine Lucien’s competency (or lack thereof).

The Performances:

Every one of the actors deserves praise for the job they did portraying the varied individuals that we meet. In the brief two hours of the play’s duration, every character is imbued with signature postures, movements, and facial expressions as well as body language and speech patterns. However, these are not caricatures — we get the sense that we are meeting real people and that they are facing real situations. And we quickly find ourselves caring deeply for each of them. I get the impression that these actors, as well as the director, thoroughly researched these roles.

Tanner Lagasca’s Arnold is fragile yet determined and resilient. He’s nervous and definitely shows traits of OCD. Aaron Clark’s Norman is a shy romantic, not at all unlike many of us. James Flaherty’s Barry is dedicated to his vision of the world and his place in it, and he seems always to be on the brink of breaking down and “losing it.”

Keith Kenel’s Lucien is the least “functional” of these young men. Everything he does makes total sense to him. Kenel shines as his character transitions into a surreal monologue that is truly not-to-be-missed during the competency hearing.

Shane Klosowski takes us with him on the roller-coaster that is Jack’s life. Jack interacts well (and believably) with his wards, but it is in his soliloquys that Klosowski really shines.

Laura Baker is simply endearing as Sheila. Her shy smile and bashful optimism could easily melt the heart of even the most detached audience member.

And we find it easy to “love to hate” Bruce Ackerman’s Mr. Klemper.

The Tech:

This show has 23 scenes, and that presents a major challenge to any set designer in even the most versatile of venues. Stageworks made the most of Holly Springs Cultural Center’s small proscenium stage, actually adding a few acting areas in front of the proscenium. A larger stage would have enabled transitions between scenes to be much more seamless, but this smaller stage necessitates wholesale set changes that are time-consuming and could become annoying. To director Maggie Cook’s credit, tastefully selected music plays during the longer set changes. Also, stage manager Taylor Nichols and the well-organized running crew (Jennifer Greene, Ali Lewis, and Skye Lewis — or so we have been told) deserve kudos.

Valerie Macon and Anna Saylor teamed up to supply a wide array of costumes, and Marjorie Volk handled props.

Random Highlights:

  • Keith Kenel’s above-mentioned transition in the tribunal scene.
  • A transition to a dream-sequence dance performed by Laura Baker and Aaron Clark.
  • Various well-pointed self-aware moments in Shane Klosowski’s monologues.
  • The “freeze-frame” moments assumed by the other characters when certain characters performed soliloquys.

From the Department of Picky-Picky:

  • Much is made of Norman having gained weight and being fat. Aaron Clark (who plays him) is not overweight in the least.
  • As well as the set changes are handled, I am sure they could be streamlined at least a little.
  • For some unexplained reason, playwright Tom Griffin has chosen to make Mr. Klemper one-armed; I simply to grasp the significance.

SECOND OPINION: Nov. 8th Raleigh, NC Chatham Life & Style review by Dustin K. Britt (who awarded the show 1 of 5 stars): https://chathamlifeandstyle.com/features-%26-reviews/f/theatre-review-please-dont-stage-the-boys-next-door%E2%80%9D.

Stageworks Theatre presents THE BOYS NEXT DOOR at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9 and 2 p.m. Nov. 10 at the Holly Springs Cultural Center, 300 W Ballentine St, Holly Springs, North Carolina 27540; and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 14-16 at the Fuquay-Varina Arts Center:, 123 E. Vance St., Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina 27526.

TICKETS: $14 ($12 students and seniors), except $10 per person for groups or season-ticket subscribers.

BOX OFFICE:

Holly Springs: 919-567-4000, StageworksTheatreNC@gmail.com, or https://webtrac.hollyspringsnc.us/wbwsc/webtrac.wsc/search.html?display=Calendar&module=PST.

Fuquay-Varina: 919-567-3921, info@fvarts.org, or https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?actions=4&p=1.

SHOW: https://www.facebook.com/events/531573484298132/ (Holly Springs), http://www.hollyspringsnc.us/calendar.aspx?CID=0&Keywords=&startDate=&enddate=& (),  https://www.facebook.com/events/936410603389766/ (Fuquay-Varina), and https://www.fuquay-varina.org/907/Arts-Center (Fuquay-Varina).

2019-20 SEASON: https://www.hollyspringsnc.us/1407/Stageworks-Theatre.

PRESENTER: https://www.hollyspringsnc.us/1407/Stageworks-Theatre and https://www.facebook.com/StageworksTheatreofHollySprings/.

VENUES:

Holly Springs Cultural Center: http://www.hollyspringsnc.us/323/Cultural-Center, https://www.facebook.com/hsculturalcenter/, and https://twitter.com/hollyspringscc (map/directions: http://maps.google.com/).

Fuquay-Varina Arts Center: https://www.fuquay-varina.org/907/Arts-Center http://www.facebook.com/Fuquay-VarinaArtsCenter, and https://twitter.com/FVArts (map/directions:  https://www.google.com/maps/).

REVIEWER:

Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Lead Story, Reviews