Entertainment » Theatre

The Boys Next Door

by Christopher Verleger
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Thursday Jul 26, 2012
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Bob Gruslin, Paul Oliver, Alex Aponte and Joe Chandonnait in "The Boys Next Door"
Bob Gruslin, Paul Oliver, Alex Aponte and Joe Chandonnait in "The Boys Next Door"   (Source:Community Players)

Four mentally challenged men live together under the supervision of a social worker who is seriously considering a career change in The Community Players’ touching production of Tom Griffin’s comedy, "The Boys Next Door."

Griffin’s play examines the life of these four men who struggle each day to accomplish the simplest things, like grocery shopping, housecleaning and holding a conversation. The heart and soul of this story is divided among the four unique personalities inhabiting the New England apartment recreated on stage.

Arnold Wiggins (Paul Oliver), a self-professed nervous wreck, has a gift for gab, an insatiable need for order and a chronic preoccupation with illnesses. The rambunctious Norman Bulansky (Robert Gruslin, Jr.) proudly wears a ring of keys on his waist, works at a donut shop where he routinely helps himself to the inventory and has a twinkle in his eye for Sheila (Katie Leeman), a like-minded girl he just met at a dance.

Lucien P. Smith (Alex Aponte), the most childish of the bunch, has an affinity for books and the library card to prove it despite not knowing how to read. Finally, Barry Klemper (Joseph Chandonnait), the smartest and most deeply affected of the four, fantasizes that he’s a professional golfer.

Because their words and actions are as hilarious as they are heartbreaking, their caretaker and close friend, Jack Palmer (Larry Wilson), proclaims -- during a social event for the impaired -- that he can’t decide if it’s "the saddest place on earth, or the happiest." In other words, Jack is burnt out and determined to try something new, even though the "boys" are his extended family.

As the audience becomes better acquainted with this foursome of maladjusted misfits, we are reminded that their needs are essentially the same as everyone’s. Norman wants Sheila to love him, Barry is desperate for his father’s approval, Lucien wishes everyone would share in his bliss and all Arnold asks for is a little respect.

Paul Oliver is an absolute hoot as Arnold, rambling endlessly and adorably, practically to a fault.

The actors complement each other beautifully and it is the collective effort of their performances that give this impressive production its strength.

Oliver is an absolute hoot as Arnold, rambling endlessly and adorably, practically to a fault. Gruslin’s moving portrayal of Norman is both profound and amusing, and Leeman is equally engaging as his love interest.

Chandonnait’s intense performance as Barry will break your heart and leave you breathless, while Weston’s earnest delivery as Jack, the consummate professional and voice of reason, helps to keep the boys grounded.

The play’s highlight, as well as its most haunting, dramatic moment belongs to Aponte, whose portrayal can best be described as extraordinary. You’ll be left shocked and speechless when the infantile Jack addresses the audience to deliver an uncharacteristically eloquent, perfectly enunciated speech about his own mental state.

The playwright’s words, brought to life by five fine performances, under the thoughtful direction of Tom DiMaggio, make "The Boys Next Door" a wondrous theatrical event.

"The Boys Next Door" continues through July 29 at Jenks Auditorium, Division Street, Pawtucket. For more information, visit The Community Players’ website.

Chris Verleger is an avid reader, aspiring novelist and self-professed theater geek from Providence. Email cwverleger1971@yahoo.com.

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