Reviewed by Tony Annicone
2nd Story Theatre’s opening show of their season is “The Boys Next Door” by Rhode Island native, Tom Griffin. It is a funny and touching play about four mentally handicapped men living in a communal residence under the guidance and watchful eye of a caring but burnt out social worker. The story is told by a series of vignettes and scenes, with some of the performers speaking directly to the audience. Director Ed Shea picks splendid and talented performers to fill these well written roles. He mixes the comic and dramatic moments together marvelously to a very appreciative audience who gives them a resounding ovation at the curtain call.
Ed makes the audience empathize with the characters. Leading the cast is Christian O’Brien as the befuddled and patient social worker, Jack. He speaks to the audience on what is happening and reacts to the many comic and dramatic situations he finds himself in. Christian’s interactions with the four residents are warm and poignant and he delivers the goods in this role. The ringleader of these four men is Arnold played excellently by Luis Astudillo. His strong portrayal as the hyperactive, Arnold who has a persecution complex and is a compulsive chatterer, is right on the money. Luis conveys the deep seated insecurity and nervous behavior with his line delivery. He has many funny scenes including wetting his pants with water, wanting to relocate to Russia because no one is listening to his problems, removing all the rugs from the apartment, polishing the bully’s shoes at the movie theatre and describing Helen’s tick while she dances. His final scene while he waits for a train to Russia is both funny and touching when Jack reappears to help him out.
One of the biggest scene stealers is Joseph Henderson as Norman who works in a donut shop and eats as many as he sells. Norman falls in love with Sheila played by Ashley Hunter-Kenner. Sheila loves the key ring he wears, so on their “romantic date”, he gives Sheila her very own key ring. Joe is hilarious as he constantly introduces himself to everyone he meets and tells them to take a seat. His interactions with the whole cast are splendid especially comic is the dishwashing scene when he complains about the cheese and eggs stuck all the dishes he washes. Ashley is terrific and her acting prowess shines through making her scenes tender and humorous. The romantic dating scene leaves everyone in stitches at their perfect comic timing.
Marlon Carey delivers a strong performance as Lucien P. Smith, the most profoundly retarded member of the group who has the mind of a five year old child. He constantly says “I be Lucien P. Smith” but he shows the most compassion and love to his fellow housemates and Jack. Marlon has many funny one liners and makes them all hit pay dirt. Some of his hilarious moments include spraying furniture spray for air freshener, dusting the furniture with a sock, killing a rat in the bathroom and having his two hand puppets fight with each other. Marlon also delivers a poignant speech directly to the audience to describe his plight and also tugs on your heartstrings when he sobs when Jack leaves them at the going away party. The fourth member of this group, Barry is fantastically played by Frankie Iaquinta. He displays great depth as Barry, who is a brilliant schizophrenic. The character becomes unraveled and devastated when he is visited by his verbally and physically abusive father after nine years. The scenes which lead up to his father’s arrival and with his father are heart wrenching because up to this point Barry has been a vital and energetic “golf pro” with a great deal of confidence. Frankie also has many funny moments as the golfing expert earlier in the show. However the tragic scene later on with his facial expressions and inability to speak after his father’s vicious visit are stunning to behold. Bravo!
The brutal and abusive, one armed father, Mr. Klemper is well played by Bill Oakes. He takes this mean, gutter mouthed Mr. Klemper and turns him into a virtual whirlwind onstage destroying everything in his path especially his fragile son. Rounding out this talented cast is Ed Shea and Susan Bowen Powers. He plays Barry’s golfing student, Mr. Hedges, Arnold’s movie theater boss and the senator at Lucian’s hearing. Susan plays the very deaf, Mrs. Fremus who misunderstands everything Barry says to her, Mrs. Warren, a young neighbor whose son’s hamster ran away and Clara, a retarded girl who keeps saying no while she constantly gobbles popcorn. So for a fantastic show with topnotch acting and direction, be sure to catch “The Boys Next Door” at 2nd Story Theatre.
THE BOYS NEXT DOOR (29 September to 29 October)
2nd Story Theatre, 28 Market Street, Warren, RI
1(401)247-4200 or www.2ndstorytheatre.com