VPR Backstage: ‘The Boys Next Door’

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(Host) Saint Michael’s Playhouse opens a window into the world of the developmentally disabled in the play “The Boys Next Door.”

VPR’s Neal Charnoff goes “Backstage.”

(Charnoff) In Tom Griffin’s play “The Boys Next Door,” four developmentally disabled men share a New England apartment. The play is a glimpse into how the men interact, and how they manage jobs, relationships, and the challenges of daily life.

Mark Nash plays the fortyish Arnold Wiggins, a self-described “nervous person.”

(Wiggins soliloquy) “I live here at the Stonehenge Villa apartment with three other guys. Did I mention I’m a nervous person? Well, frankly, I am. Today I went to the market at the end of the street to get some Wheaties. But I couldn’t remember whether I wanted one box or more boxes, so I asked the manager how many boxes I should get. ‘For just you?’ he said. ‘Yes, sir’,’ I said. ‘Seventeen,’ he said. ‘Thank you,’ I said. But, and this is what I want to emphasize by nervous, I could only find nine boxes. So what could I do? I got nine boxes of Wheaties. And seven heads of lettuce. That made 16. And one bag of charcoal briquettes. That made 17. And a quart of milk. You know, for the Wheaties.”

(Charnoff) Actor Mark Nash says that “The Boys Next Door” illuminates misperceptions people have about the developmentally disabled.

(Nash) “This play does a really nice job of letting us know that, although on the surface they may seem very different to us and very strange to us, they’ve got the same issues with love and career and relationship and family that we’re struggling with. And it lets us know that we don’t have to be afraid of them, we don’t have to push them off into a corner somewhere, and that maybe they can even teach us something.”

(Charnoff) Ross Williams plays Norman Belansky, the only one of the four men involved in a relationship. Williams says that playing Norman has affected his own outlook on life and love.

(Williams) “Norman is a very excited and love-filled person, and everything that he does in the play comes from a genuine place of compassion. And one of the wonderful things about these characters is that they have stepped outside of the jaded world that neurotypical people live in. There’s an innocence and a love for life that we lose sight of often.”

(Charnoff) Norman goes everywhere with a key ring attached to his belt, which seems to have a comforting effect on him. Here, Norman attends a party with his case manager Jack, played by Patrick Flanagan.

(Jack) “I see you and Sheila aren’t dancing. What’s the matter?
(Norman) “She’s not no Skinny Minny herself!”
(Jack) “Did you two have a fight? It’s personal, I understand.”
(Norman) “I need my keys. I can’t get into things without my keys!
(Jack) “She doesn’t like your keys, huh?”
(Norman) “She wants my keys!”
(Jack) “She looks pretty sad over there. Why don’t you go over and ask her to dance? It’d be a real mature thing to do, Norman.”
(Norman) “But Jack, she wants my keys!”

(Charnoff) Part of the rehearsal process for “The Boys Next Door” involved cast members visiting a group home similar to the one depicted. A group of clients from Howard Mental Health Services put on their own show for the cast and crew.

Peter Harrigan is directing “The Boys Next Door.” He says it’s important to realize that the issues for the developmentally disabled are the same issues that we all struggle with.

(Harrigan) “People might hear that we’re doing a play that involves people who have developmental disabilities and think that there’s a seriousness and a gravity to that. And there certainly is a message in it and a poignancy, but there’s so much joy, both in the play, and also in the lives of the people that it’s capturing.”

(Charnoff) Harrigan adds that each season, Saint Michael’s Playhouse tries to include a work that that inspires dialogue within the community.

(Harrigan) “When people come to see the show, there’ll be some clients from Howard Community Services who are seating them, who are acting as the ushers, and we’re also going to have an art display in the lobby from Grace Arts, with paintings by folks with developmental disabilities. So we’re hoping that the experience is not just something that exists on the stage, but something that happens in the lobby and hopefully gets carried out into people’s cars and conversations when they leave the theater.”

(Neal) For VPR Backstage, I’m Neal Charnoff.

“The Boys Next Door” runs through Saturday night at Saint Michael’s Playhouse in Colchester.

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