Review: Laugh, cry and dance with ‘The Boys Next Door’ | Entertainment

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How best to stage an outdated play with outdated language (that might be offensive to some) about four neurodiverse men living together in a group home?

With great sensitivity, of course, and with an awareness, openness and honesty about the concerns that could arise when presenting a play that centers around people living with various abilities and disabilities. 

And that is exactly how the talented artists at the Granite Theatre have gone about staging “The Boys Next Door” — the late Tom Griffin’s 1988 play — which is on stage now through Aug. 26. 

Nicole DiMattei, the theater’s artistic director and the show’s production manager, and Ally Altman, who directs the play, have done a commendable job by assembling a top notch group of actors to share glimpses into the lives of roommates Norman Bulansky (Bill Corriveau), Lucien P. Smith (Geoff Blanchette), Arnold Wiggins (Stephen Palermo), Barry Klemper (Pat Lewers) and Jack (Elias Beck Sandlin), their loving but stressed-out caretaker.

Sandlin is excellent as Jack, who narrates much of the play. He is kind and understanding without condescension (although he does lose his patience occasionally.) He loves the guys in his care and it shows. 

Corriveau gives us a thoughtful, poignant and often funny Norman, the donut-loving housemate with a job (at a donut shop) and a girlfriend (Camille Terilli is genuine and sweet as Sheila, who is obsessed with her boyfriend’s keys). 

Palermo, as Arthur, the most talkative of the four housemates, is very good in the role of the anxious man with OCD and expertly manages to portray his character with sincerity and humor. 

Lewers as Barry — a man with schizophrenia who insists he’s a golf pro — gives a solid, albeit heartbreaking, performance. But it might be Blanchette, as Lucien, who gives the most profound performance of the play. At risk of losing his social security benefits, and nervous about his scheduled appearance before a state Senate hearing, Lucien pulls it together to deliver a powerful speech to the lawmakers — and to us.

The play was considered to be progressive when it was first produced in the 1980s, and remains one of the most popular plays about people with neurodiversity … but it is clearly a complicated one to produce.

In her program notes, DiMattei writes about her initial concerns presenting “The Boys Next Door.”

“I wanted to make sure we took every precaution to tell this story in a way that moved us forward in how we talk about this intricate subject,” she writes. “We have come a long way in the last 40 years, but the work is yet to be completed, and there are still plenty of things we can do to promote awareness and inclusion.”

Her goal, she said, was “for all of us at the Granite Theatre to take at least one step in the right direction.”

“I am so proud of the cast and crew that we have assembles to tell this story,” she continues. “The stage, both on and back, is beautifully shared by both neurodivergent and and neuorotypical persons. Throughout this rehearsal process they have told their stories and learned from one another while creating these fully realized characters.”

Altman, who deserves high praise for her excellent direction, said it “was an honor to work with such an amazing cast and crew,” in her director’s note. “And, as someone with dyslexia, anxiety and PTSD, I feel privileged to be able to bring you my vision of this important story.”

“I hope you are able to laugh, cry and dance along with these special people, just as I have.”

Laugh and cry we certainly did. We held off on the dancing.

Jane Mandes and Brooke Kelley’s costumes deserve a round of applause, as does the interesting set design by Kevin Mackay and Bob Mackay and Patrick Barry’s lighting. 

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