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The Boys Next Door Encore Improves on the Original

By Robert W. McDowell

REVIEW (1/15/05)

The Towne Players of Garner’s exuberant encore presentation of The Boys Next Door by Tom Griffin improves on the original April 21-29, 2000 production directed by Beth Honeycutt, designed by her husband Scott, and starring Holmes Morrison, Jeffrey Nugent, Rob Smith, and Rusty Sutton as four mentally challenged residents of a New England group home and Greg Flowers as the increasingly burned-out social worker who takes care of their needs and cares deeply about them.

Towne Players technical director Scott Honeycutt once again works scenic and lighting wonders in transforming the tiny stage of The Garner Historic Auditorium into a detailed facsimile of the living room/kitchen — complete with running water — of a group home in a Boston apartment complex.

A real pro when it comes to milking all the laughs from quirky comedies, Towne Players artistic director Beth Honeycutt coaches even deeper, more heartfelt, and more sharply etched characterizations from her five principals; and she assembles a strong supporting cast that enhances the humor and the poignancy of playwright Tom Griffin’s provocative Off-Broadway comedy.

Greg Flowers is warm and wryly witty as Jack Palmer, a sympathetic social worker trying to help his four adult male charges live independently and cope with their mental deficits, each others’ quirks and tics, and societal attitudes toward the mentally handicapped. Rob Smith is highly amusing as Arnold Wiggins, a thin, highly nervous group-home resident in baseball cap and horned-rim glasses. Arnold might well be the poster boy for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. In addition to OCD, which makes Arnold a jangling bundle of nerves, there is an unhealthy dash of paranoia that makes Arnold deeply suspicious of anything and everything new and different that he encounters in the group home, on the street, and on the job as a cleaner for a movie theater.

Rusty Sutton is a hoot as gravitationally challenged Norman Bulansky, who works at a doughnut shop and seems determined to eat enough doughnuts to reach his weight on Jupiter. Kelly Stansell is cute as Sheila, a pudgy, pig-tailed resident of another group home who has a monumental crush on Norman — or is it just Norman’s big bundle of keys that she covets?

Sharon Pearce contributes a vivid cameo as Sheila’s fretful friend Clara; and Jeffrey Nugent is charming as Barry Klemper, a dapper schizophrenic who thinks that he is a golf pro, dresses like the late U.S. Open winner Payne Stewart, and gives “lessons” to his neighbors in the apartment complex where the group home is located.

Frances Stanley is sweet and funny as Mrs. Fremus, a deaf widow who befriends Barry; but Jack Chapman’s portrayal of Mr. Klemper, Barry’s angry, one-armed, verbally and physically abusive father has a lot of rough edges.

But it is Holmes Morrison who once again steals the show with his passionate and emotionally powerful performance as severely retarded Lucien P. Smith, whose Social Security disability benefits are in jeopardy because of the latest round of legislative budget cuts. Lucien has the mind of a five year old, a love for Spiderman and his library card, and a touching childlike innocence that endears him to the audience. And Morrison plays Lucien’s naiveté and vulnerability to perfection.

The Towne Players’ passionate performance of The Boys Next Door will make Triangle theatergoers laugh out loud, but this affectionate and deeply sympathetic look at the travails of four mentally challenged adult men may also, quite unexpectedly, touch a heartstring or two. This highly entertaining and moving production is community theater at its best.

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