Comments on “The Boys Next Door”

Soon after the review of SOAR Productions’ “The Boys Next Door” was posted, comments appeared here and on my personal email. Following are a few, edited for length (not for tone) and to ensure the writers’ anonymity.

This email was from a regular reader who lives near Tallahassee, Florida. He’s a community theater producer and actor.

I wish we had a knowledgeable critic here who would write honest reviews of our shows.  Maybe that’s just not possible in a small community, but I would consider it a service to the local theaters.

Some of the plays we do are pure crap and some individual performances are embarrassing.  If someone had the guts to write “John Doe’s performance was awful” once in a while it might cull out the bad actors.  Here they get cast over and over again and everybody says they are wonderful. Some objective, severe criticism might also produce better play selection.  However, community theater is like little league, everybody gets a trophy and, God forbid that anybody should write anything that would cut down the attendance.

This reached me through the website:

There is no doubt that some of the language in this play is dated and offensive. But what I find most offensive is the Reviewer being so occupied by the “R” word that he has failed to substantially review or comment on any of the elements of the performance.  By applying his same logic our Reviewer would condemn ” Huckleberry Finn” because of the “N” word or “Burn This” because of the “F” word.

If one can look past the politicly incorrect language, the play paints an image of challenged adults trying to deal with the same problems, issues and concerns we all face in day to day life.  This play gives its characters names, faces, and personalities and we care about who they are.   I was never afraid of “laughing at” the characters, I was engaged.  The cast deftly handles the material while avoiding obvious stereotypes. Bravo to Soar Productions for not shrinking form this material.

My review concentrated on the play itself. In it, I mention 16 negatives, including one about the use of “retarded” and “RE-tard.” Other than criticizing the direction, my only production comments were, in fact, positive. (If mentioning “Huckleberry Finn” in the same context with “The Boys Next Door” isn’t a criminal offense it should be.)

This email from someone I’ve never met:

Ugh. Had the misfortune of losing a few hours of my life seeing this play. I couldn’t agree with your comments more. WHY? Just, why…

My point precisely…

Email from a friend who produces and directs community and professional theater in Rochester, NY:

Just read your “Boys” review and had a good laugh. Many years ago I saw the play when it opened in New York. I couldn’t understand why people were not laughing, because I felt it was meant to be funny. Anyway, I decided to do the play in our season, and it was one of the biggest hits we ever had. It was really
a wonderful production, with a great cast. So, go know. I would imagine that the play is quite dated by now. We did it at least 20 years ago.

From the site on 2/18 from someone I don’t know, but whose name indicates is a relative of cast member:

I saw the play with my family.  We LOVED it.  I have been working with the handicapped population for 25 years.  I thought it brought an understanding to their personalities and quirks (which each of us have), instead of the fear and misunderstanding many people have of them.  My children know enough not to use the “R” word.  They have been exposed to and involved with the students I work with throughout their life.  It made us laugh.  It made us think of certain people we know.  It did NOT, however, make the handicapped look any more pathetic than seeing someone play a blind man or a quadraplegic in a show.  These people exist and live in the same world as us.  I can only hope…for the sake of God…that this opened your eyes to some of the difficulties they have to live through despite their loving and giving hearts.  The scene when Arnold comes home with 17 boxes of cereal because the clerk at the store took advantage of him.  That happens every day!!!!!   Hopefully, people in the audience have become educated even more by seeing this play.  And will open their hearts and their minds as they continue on this journey called “life”.  And in this life…those situations are real.

Also from a stranger ( edited to excise some specific negatives):

I have to agree with this review.  This was an atrocious production of a poorly written play.  The material is dated, tedious, and lacking any discernible protagonist.  Any humor at all is derived at the expense of the characters.  Who stages a play containing that many scenes with laborious blackouts in between?  With all the slow scene changes, pauses and lagging delivery, the production neared 3 hours.  [They] could have easily cut 45 minutes off the playing time.   The only good thing I can say about this show is that [a small number of] people were subjected to the performance I saw.

Forty-five minutes might be a stretch, but 20? For sure…

And some exchanges with cast member Tom Nemec (who chose to go public):

   Regardless of the way a production is presented this play is often misunderstood by those that think far too narrowly. To relate the accommodation of those afflicted in the autistic spectrum with that of the content of a written work of art (the play in its raw form) and then to say that because Broadway makes such accommodations, is similar to saying that now that the minorities who’s [sic] ancestors suffered great injustice in this country have affirmative action programs they no longer need to read books like The Invisible man and Native Son.

My  reply:

Thanks, Tom, for your interest in and response to my “Boys” comments. For the record, my opinion of the play and, more important, a theater company staging it today, stands.

Nemec back:

No problem. I feel my my comment may have been unfairly insultihm with use of the words narrow . It was not my intentention to insult you. I could change it if you want. Have a great day.  Also i do agree that the play as written is flawed and to me it needs a serious work shop or abandoned altoghether. Peace love
prosperity ~tom [sic throughout]

My response:

Well, Tom, which is it? Your original comment? or this more temperate evaluation? (“flawed”? I guess so!) No apology is necessary, ever, although identifying yourself on the site as a cast member might have been more…let’s say, open.

Then the peace, love and prosperity went missing:

whatever! I did not try to conceal anything.
I have have found out from the community that no one takes you serious anyway. And this is from regional and well as community.

The judgment in question is your inability or lack of understanding of artistic expression  and evaluation there of. Those who can… those who can do neither ,criticize., [sic again]

Mine back:

Holy cow…where did that come from? Man, you really know how to change the tone.  Not fun to read, but I’ve heard worse and probably will again. Take care, Tom. I wish you well.

And finally, Tom on FB, responding to someone who mentioned being awarded a Normy:

A Normy..that is not an award. its something he made up and has no significance. Im giving out awards also , the first goes to Phil Dorian, its the Monkey Tiger award , the winner gets to keep the weekly contents of my cats, Monkey And Tigers litter box. [sic throughout]

Will put the lid on with this recently received message:

You don’t know me, but I was [character] in [name of show] in 2009. I JUST saw that you awarded me a “Normy” for that production! (I know I am a little behind). I wanted to thank you for that AND for your review of my performance in that production. I have been reading your reviews for many years and usually agree 100% with your critiques. So…your review and “Normy” truly meant a lot to me! I am so sorry to have only noticed it now, 2 years later. Thank you again!

Hey, what’s two years among friends? See you at the theater.