The Boys Next Door

By on 16 April, 2012 in Art, Fun, Kate and Stephen with 4 Comments

On Saturday we got dressed up and made our first foray to the Cloverdale Playhouse. The recently rehabbed church is now showing its second ever production, “The Boys Next Door,” and because we missed the inaugural show, “The Gin Game,” we were anxious to see what all the fuss was about. First things first: The building looks amazing. We’d only been in it once before, several years ago, for a public charrette and discussion of the city’s drawings for the Five Points area. It smelled a little musty, as we recalled, and the sanctuary seemed like it hadn’t seen any attention in quite some time.

The large capital campaign to totally transform the space has paid off brilliantly. The theater feels warm and inviting, with intimate seating and a lovely foyer. On a warm spring night it was exceptionally beautiful to go outside and walk around the grounds, seeing the light come through the signature clover-shaped window in the front of the old church.

We’d never heard of the play itself, but it turned out that the Playhouse’s Artistic Director Greg Thornton has had a long relationship with it, beginning with a reading that took a winding road to Broadway. He’s clearly happy to bring such a well-loved production to Cloverdale.

We didn’t do any reading about the play beforehand, perhaps because we wanted to be surprised and not laden with expectations on arrival. It turns out that the eponymous “Boys” are a group of mentally challenged men (three with developmental disabilities and one with schizophrenia) who reside in a group apartment that is a state-subsidized transitional home. Although they dominate all scenes, the main character, and the the one we are clearly supposed to relate to the most, is their social worker Jack.

When we meet the roommates, they are engaged in various behaviors meant to show their different grasps on reality and social convention. One (Barry) seems functional, but inept, while another (Arnold) obsessively counts items from the grocery store. Norman wishes to consume more donuts than he probably should, and Lucien repeats small phrases while pretending he can read books borrowed from the public library. Their interactions are staged in an amusing way and the audience is made to feel that they should laugh too, because Jack (who cares deeply for the men) does.

The trajectory of the story is essentially along four lines: Norman’s developing relationship with his girlfriend Sheila (Tara Fenn, turning in our favorite performance in the play), Barry’s relationship with his father (deeply sad, but George Jacobsen nails the role of the disheveled and loathsome Mr. Klemper), Jack’s ambiguous feelings about his job, and Lucien’s testimony in front of the State Senate. This latter line really had our attention, given the massive cuts now facing Alabama’s Department of Human Resources, and Department of Mental Health affecting people just like Lucien living all over the state. Given the budget crisis facing Alabama, we’d have gone to the play simply on the basis of how timely it is.

Although the play overall does a good job of communicating the idea that society’s most marginalized people are often just like us, it’s Jack’s story that lends the play its essential and lasting message. He is both a narrator and main character, allowing the audience to relate to characters with whom it would otherwise struggle.

It is immensely ambitious for a community theater to put on a play in which actors must play such challenging roles. One person playing a character with extreme mental limitations — in ways that reflect nuance and avoid cartoonishness — is exceptionally difficult to pull off. To have four characters, in such an intimate setting, demonstrates inspiring audacity.

If we had any complaint, it might be that our seats were at ground level in the rear, making it hard to see what characters were doing when they were sitting or crouched at ground level. But the emotional heft of the play transcended any limited lines of sight. The audience is left hoping for the best for all of the “Boys Next Door,” while simultaneously considering important social and political questions of what kind of world we’ve made for such people to inhabit. The bouts of audience laughter that punctuate such themes make it easier to delve into such depths.

Here’s hoping that Montgomery will flood to support the Cloverdale Playhouse performance of “Boys,” emboldening the community theater to continue to embark on such difficult, and engaging subject matter.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a dog, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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There Are 4 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Scott Page says:

    Karen and Stephen, Thank you so much for these kind words on our play. I played Jack in this production and I can tell you a lot of hard work went into getting this production just right. We knew that if we were not very careful, we could easily offend a portion of the community and that was not our goal at all. I am so glad to read that you picked up on so many of the small things that were done in order to tell our very big story. We are all very proud of the results and thank you so much for A.Coming, and B. Enjoying it. Thanks again.

  2. Aaron Fonseca says:

    Kate and Stephen, thank you for your gracious words in regards to this wonderful play. Throughout the process, I so looked forward to having an audience so that people like yourselves would be able to get a glimpse at humanity that is not so often seen or talked about. To know that we as actors successfully told the story in a way that captured you and compelled you to deeper thought makes me even more proud of the work that this cast and crew put in. Thnak you for your support of local arts here in Montgomery and for what you do. Thank you. “Hi! Have a nice day! Hi!”

  3. Penny Weaver says:

    It’s amazing that we have such talent in our community! This play, and the performances of all, was beautiful and poignant. Thanks so much, Cloverdale Playhouse.

  4. Tara says:

    Kate and Stephen, thank you so much for this wonderful review of our play. As Scott and Aaron said, we worked very hard to portray a real picture of “the boys” and not a caricature. I believe their story was one that many people know all too well. It was a very rewarding experience for me as part of the cast, and I’m glad to know that the audience was equally as pleased. Thank you again for everything!!

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