The Boys Next Door

A review by Patrick Shannon, III

by Patrick Shannon, www.Crescent City

?The Boys Next Door
A review by Patrick Shannon, III

The Boys Next Door by Tim Griffin is currently on the boards at the Jefferson Performing Arts Center in the Westwego Performing Arts Theatre. This JPAS production is an extraordinary example of fine acting, faultless direction, excellent writing and technical mastery. Such an absolutely top notch show should not be missed! CALL NOW FOR YOUR TICKET: 504.885.2000.

The play was shown was as A Hallmark Hall of Fame Production February 4, 1996, on CBS with Nathan Lane as Norman Bulansky and Mare Winnigham as Sheila among others. The script was a bit different from the play; but retained the unique blend of comedy and drama.

Four mentally challenged men share an apartment in this non-sentimental two act play that looks into their lives; and their interaction with those around them. The play, as directed by Perry Martin, was touchingly acted by an ensemble cast reaching moments of outrageous humor, love, abuse, loss, and survival. He grounded the play in realistic scenes, and added lovely touches such as a dance scene for a budding romance.

This critic was amazed and delighted at the high quality of theatrical artistry experienced at this show. It will be remembered as one of the brightest and most moving productions ever seen in a long history of attending the theatre.
Bob Edes, Jr., was Arnold Wiggins. I think this is one of the best roles in Mr. Edes admirable career. To create such an unforgettable character among so many excellent co-stars is a great achievement. You will become completely touched by Edes’ creation of this manic little man who tries so much to become an acceptable part of reality. Bob Edes captured and magnified the humor and pathos of himself and the rest of his mentally handicapped roommates; he shone a great light of sad beauty upon his inescapable condition as he wove his web of comic
compulsivities and funnily apt malapropisms which enable a terrible situation to become accessible that both breaks your heart and illuminates the frightening human condition of mental disorder upon which he is trapped. With body language, vocal gymnastics, twittering hand gestures, and a dancing prancing walk, he delineated his “nervous condition” with a blinding stage presence. What a performance!!!

Dane Rhodes was Norman Bulansky. Once again this actor shows why he is considered one of our greatest local actors. Like his fellow actor, Mr. Edes, he created a remarkable character in Norman Bulansky. With repetitious gestures, verbal habits, and vocal tricks, he became such a lovable, likeable little boy trapped in a man’s body that he will melt your heart. What a performance! What an unforgettable performance!

Tim Bellow, is played by Lucien B. Smith who does an equally fine job of creating the role of a severely retarded African American man caught up in a world that barely tolerates his inescapably tragic mental handicap. His moments on stage build up to a mesmerizing climax, done with a true actor’s finesse. Another memorable role that will break your heart.

Mark Burton played Mr. Klemper, the unforgiving father of one of the schizophrenic Barry Klemper (Kevin Songy). Playing the heavy among a cast of very sympathetic characters, Mr. Burton is outstanding as he delineates his role with expertise; as he becomes an apparently insensitive brute of a father, a one-armed monster whose violence is possibly responsible for most of son’s mental schizophrenia. He stuns us in a “visiting scene” with his helpless son.

Kevin Songy performed his role of the schizophrenic son Barry Klemper with brilliance building up to a climatic scene that will take your breath away. Trying to reach to the world with his fiction of being a golf pro this young man so tries to be normal. Mr. Songy breaks your heart as he starts to blossom, only to regress to a frightened, defeated boy. As mentioned, his scene with his brutish father was stunning and his completely realized character was an inspiring example of fine nuance and layered acting. (This expertly stage scene drew gasps of sympathy and outrage from some of the receptive audience on opening night.)

Lucas Harms was Jack Palmer, the compassionate care giver of the four handicapped men. Mr. Harms, a handsome young actor, has a wonderful unaffected stage presence. He gave us with a well conceived interpretation of his role that was both sensitive and possessed of a virile, vibrant veracity. A totally pure and inspired example of a good performance.

Megan Sauzer Harms was Sheila, and what a natural and exciting role she created as the mentally handicapped young woman with an understandable crush on Dane Rhode’s version of Norman Bulansky. Ms. Harms’ sweetly charming innocent depiction of Sheila played with grace and professionalism against her love interest, Mr. Rhodes. We witnessed a complex and compelling role in her fine performance.

Jeff S. Riddick, Jr., was Mr. Hedges, Mr. Corbin, and Senator Clarke. Riddick flowed smoothly and faultlessly into his three pivotal roles as did Beth LaBarbera playing Mrs. Fremus, Karen Warren, and Clara. Ms. LaBarbera was able to establish three clearly conceived and different characters much to the delight of the audience and this reviewer. And each one was totally memorable!

Lighting design by Melissa Oliver, costume design by Katie McNamara and stage design/production by Richard D. Whitney, Jr. was crisp, clean and professional as well as beautiful. With a simple drop, and sensitive lighting the stage moves from the boys apartment to Norman’s movie house work-place to a community center for a social dance event. Helping this stage magic along were appropriate music and musical cues.

This astonishing production of The Boys Next Door as done by JPAS is what truly professional theatre is all about; an experience that touches the heart and brings the soul into the presence of incandescent beauty!