Review: “The Boys Next Door”

In what was arguably the Spotlight Players’ toughest production to date, “The Boys Next Door” features seniors Andrew Henke and Ben Patty, as well as juniors Evan Richard and Charlie Grant, engaging in roles as mentally disabled men that live in a group home, which is overseen by junior John Emery, who plays the social worker Jack Palmer.

The four mentally disabled characters go by the names of Arnold Wiggins, Lucien P. Smith, Norman Bulansky, and Barry Klemper, and provide Emery with some considerable stress. As the play carries on, Emery often hints at finding a new job. He finds it hard, however, to leave the four men, who have seemingly formed a bond with Emery being the centerpiece to it all.

Emery’s character is not the only one that experiences a conflict, as each of the boys face the odds. Arnold (Richard) faces chronic abuse from his co-workers, but dreads the idea of standing up for himself. Grant, who plays Norman, has an addiction to donuts that threatens his health, but finds solace in Sheila, his girlfriend from another group home played by junior Hannah Beckmann. Lucien, played by Henke, is the most disabled of them all, but his disability funds are threatened when he is accused as a fraud. Last, but not least, Patty’s character, Barry, is perhaps the most distraught of them all, as old memories come back to haunt him.

And herein lies the beauty of this play: despite our differences, we are all the same. Those who are mentally disabled face real world problems just like you and I. From Norman’s newfound love to Barry’s corrupt family life, all the issues faced by these four men are no different than those we face everyday, which is both heartwarming and thought provoking.

This message is sent in various ways, the most noteworthy being the convincing performances by all the actors and actresses involved in the play. With the ability to connect with a lot of the problems the boys faced, I found, at times, that I didn’t see the characters as mentally disabled. I saw them as normal human beings.

These convincing performances pave way for some intense and powerful scenes, two being the most emotional scenes I have seen in a school production. The first was the arrival of Barry’s father, played by senior Sean Gundersen. The tension between Barry and his father could be cut by a knife, as their first encounter in nine years is riveting. It ends with Gundersen smacking his schizophrenic son in a fit of rage before he leaves.

Another moving scene was somewhat out of the ordinary, but greatly shows the unique nature of the play. As Lucien faces the “State Sneck,” the scene freezes as he stands up and acts as if he is a normal human being. Ironic because he is on trial for accusations of faking his disability, Henke delivers a coherent, short monologue in which he explains the extent of his disability and the fact that he truly is mentally disabled. The moment left me stunned, but in a good way.

“The Boys Next Door” hits you with a wave of emotions. It is both comical and tender; inspiring and different. No other play has made me think more, or affected me like this one has. Despite an emotional rollercoaster, I left the auditorium with a warm, fuzzy feeling. With two more performances left, I encourage all to check out an excellent production put on by an excellent cast and crew, and hopefully you leave as enlightened as I was.