Review Written by: Kelly De Angioletti
Take 4 “mentally handicapped” men, one burnt-out social worker, and the concept of “normality”. Throw in a pinch of everyday life, mix well, and pen in play format. Voilà! You have the heartwarming, poignant, and hilarious play, The Boys Next Door, by Tom Griffin.
The plot of this show revolves around the everyday routine of four mentally-handicapped men living “independently” in a communal residence, while being supervised by their exhausted social worker. One of these men is Arnold, a self-doubting, nervous character with crippling anxiety, who vows to move to Russia once things become “too much for him”. Quite opposite to Arnold is care-free Norman, a rather large man who is always accompanied by at least one “Oh boy!” a ring of keys, and a half-eaten donut. He has his eye on Sheila (another girl at the complex), but it becomes apparent that Norman has to make a choice between his ring of keys or Sheila as their ‘relationship’ escalates. Another character, Lucien, acts as comedic relief to the somewhat-serious atmosphere, due to his beaming pride over his library card, Spider Man tie, and amusing one-line-wonders. The last man rooming in the apartment is Barry, who appears to be an intellectual golf pro constantly “name-dropping” his dad, but in reality has no experience whatsoever playing golf and fails to see his dad’s terrible flaws. Lastly, there is Jack, a young, sapped, social worker who manages the raw emotions of this motley crew, whether that be profound happiness or sheer pandemonium.
Though each man is registered as “mentally handicapped”, it really makes no difference to the extent of their emotions, because the play captures the trials, tribulations, and flat out off-the-wall scenarios that come with being alive. Just like everyone else, Arnold, Norman, Barry, and Lucien feel the same desires and grief that every person comes to sense. This play encompasses the hardships of being handicapped, as well as the beauty and wonderment found in each endeavor. Every moment in the play is meaningful (though sometimes blown out of proportion), and ultimately boils down to a group of humans taking a stab life. As Lucien says, “It’s hard.”, and it is. Life makes you want to laugh and cry... and feel just about every emotion… and not unlike life, this play will have the same effect.