BY GEORGE J. DACRE
“The Boys Next Door” at Antrim Playhouse in Suffern is a courageous portrayal of mentally challenged men living in a communal residence, which aims to show how they and their friends have lives filled with issues, humor, tenderness and anger similar to any other person.
Antrim Playhouse and director Bobbi Schevitz have assembled a remarkable cast to do the job of being these men and women and, while it may make the audience a bit uncomfortable, author Tom Griffin has written the story so that there are laughs and feelings for those who are portrayed.
The play brings out the reactions of “The Boys Next Door” to each other and their supervisor. As producer Marty Andreas says, the play is not designed to mock or poke fun at those with special needs, but offer a glimpse into their lives. We have to rely on the author to accept that the portrayal is real and derived from actual observation.
There is Arnold (Roy Harry) who is very nervous about everything. There is Norman (Stephen Moscatello) who has a constant craving for doughnuts and whose prized possession is a set of belt keys. There is Barry (Rob Giumarra) who believes he is a golf pro and wants to teach others to play. There is Lucien (Joe Albert Lima, big and strong and inarticulate. And there is Jack, (Keith Bulluck) the boys’ next door supervisor, who is overworked but deals with it all very well, showing patience and a sense of humor.
“The Boys Next Door” is presented in a series of scenes in present day New York. Scenes take place in an apartment, at a dance, railroad tracks, a theatre manager’s office, the State Senate Chamber and an institution. Each scene has a different episode involving the boys and the supervisor, with the actors sometimes addressing the audience directly. This is very effective and results in a very interesting presentation.
The play goes from Norman giving his also mentally challenged girlfriend Sheila (Beatrice B. Mattaway) a set of keys and receiving a kiss, to Barry giving a golf lesson unsuccessfully, to Arnold bringing home groceries, which he has been told not to do and other scenes involving Barry’s one-armed father berating him and Barry reacting by going silent, except to say to his father that he is a golf pro.
Another scene has Lucien (Joe Albert Lima) meeting a state Senator along with Jack, and at first not being able to recite the alphabet, to suddenly becoming articulate and pressing for better conditions for the boys. The action is constant and the direction by Bobbi Schevitz is excellent.
“The Boys Next Door” gives an insight into the lives of mentally challenged persons and the acting is extraordinary. This is a play worth seeing to experience what it might be like in a communal residence.
I rate “The Boys Next Door” Three out of Four Stars and commend The Antrim Players for bringing attention to the mentally challenged. It runs weekends through June 28 at the Playhouse on Spook Rock Road in Wesley Hills. Tickets at antrimplayhouse.com.