“The Boys Next Door” – Call the movers…

A few things I‘ll never understand: how my cell phone works in the middle of the Lincoln Tunnel, how so many women have been willing to sleep with Newt Gingrich, and why any theater company would stage The Boys Next Door. As far as I know, no one at SOAR Productions is lusting after Newt, but The Boys is, indeed, their current offering.

I had never heard of the play and was only mildly concerned by the cautionary pre-show announcement about some of the language. (The announcement had been requested by The ARC of New Jersey, an advocacy organization for “people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”) Turns out The Boys Next Door isn’t so much a play as it is a two-hour insult to the class of people it portrays.

The “boys” are four group-home residents, coping with those intellectual and developmental disabilities and with one another in a series of about 20 blackout scenes, some blessedly short, others excruciatingly long. While it doesn’t cross the line into outright ridicule, the play heaps one indignity after another upon the men in failed attempts to develop a story and to generate laughs.

One of the men is seemingly autistic, characterized by rapid speech patterns and jerky movements; another is slow-witted, unable to sing the alphabet in correct order; a third is less outwardly off-kilter, but imagines himself as a golf instructor. A confrontation between this young man and his father explodes into violence that leaves the son catatonic. The scene is disturbing, yes; but more for its awkward presence in the play than for its content.

The fourth fellow is the most realistic and, to my untrained observation, the least stereotypical. Norman is far from bright, but he questions his environment, and in the one plausible scenario, he and Sheila, a similarly afflicted woman, connect emotionally.

Besides “retarded” and “RE-tard,” there’s actually an offhand reference to most of “those” women being sterilized. Defenders of The Boys will remind us that it was written in 1980, when those terms and conditions were commonly applied to certain disabilities, and the point is well taken; but the play retains no sociological significance, nor, in a purely theatrical sense, does it entertain. Unlike Cuckoo’s Nest, there’s no plot thread, no charismatic leading character, no champion for any cause, very little drama and no humor except at the expense of the afflicted. To the credit of the small audience last Saturday night, no one laughed.

All that noted, it should be mentioned that some of the acting is decent. No one is helped by the plodding direction (low-IQ people do not necessarily take long pauses before they speak), but Tom Nemec and Mike Dalberg are at least consistent in their mimicry, and Marcus Scott and Carolyn Driscoll are warm and non-condescending as Norman and Sheila.

From ARCNJ’s website: “We strongly believe the only ‘r-word’ that should be used when referring to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is ‘Respect’.” At a time when Broadway shows like Mary Poppins and The Lion King are offering specially designed “autism-friendly” performances, The Boys Next Door is a disgrace.

 

Performances Fri and Sat, Feb 17 and 18 at 8pm in the Post Theater at the far end of Sandy Hook.  Information and tickets ($18): 732-471-8268 or online at www.soarproductions.org

 

Blog, Community, Regional
  • tom

    Regardless of the way a production is presented this play the Boys Next Door 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 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. At least this reviewer/critic from the New York times understands the nature of this play. http://theater.nytimes.com/mem/theater/treview.html?res=9C0CE4D81230F935A35756C0A966958260

  • tom

    Regardless of the way a production is presented this play the Boys Next Door 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 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. At least this reviewer/critic from the New York times understands the nature of this play. http://theater.nytimes.com/mem/theater/treview.html?res=9C0CE4D81230F935A35756C0A966958260

  • Robert Coughlin

    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.

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  • Nancy

    I saw the play last Sunday 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 wordl 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 depsite their loving and giving hearts. I think of the opening 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.

  • Stephen

    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. (I assume Jack is supposed to fulfill this role, but fails miserably.) Any humor at all is derived at the expense of the characters. The production is horribly directed. 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. Any competent director could have easily cut 45 minutes off the playing time. The only good thing I can say about this show is that less than 10 people were subjected to the performance I saw.