Tom Griffin’s humorous and poignant 1987 comic drama “The Boys Next Door,” a story of four mentally disabled roommates and their compassionate social worker, receives an excellently character-driven presentation at the Dayton Theatre Guild.
Director Natasha Randall, subtly inserting Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” for topical relevance at one point, deftly establishes the varying tones in the challenging play which encompass moments of utter pandemonium, charming levity and heartrending potency. Whenever the action particularly plummets into chaos, the hyperactive tendencies of the meticulous Arnold Wiggins (Darren Maddox), the childlike Lucien P. Smith (Franklin Johnson), the doughnut-craving Norman Bulanksy (William Fulmer) and the golf-adoring Barry Klemper (Craig Roberts) unintentionally rise to grating levels, but these unique men are endearingly and energetically brought to life nonetheless which is paramount.
Griffin doesn’t provide many conceptual fireworks in the mildly meandering Act 1, but supplies two terrific scenes in the more substantive, emotionally engaging Act 2. The tense arrival of Barry’s abusive, bigoted father, played with casually cruel ease by Mark Jeffers, completely demolishes Barry’s self-esteem and psychological well-being, which Roberts, in perhaps his most sympathetic performance to date, skillfully conveys. Shortly after Barry is reduced to tears, Lucien appears before the state senate in heartbreaking fashion to fight for his benefits. While questioned, Lucien delivers a powerful out of body monologue, a fervent plea for tolerance and understanding which also serves as the highpoint of this production, superbly and passionately rendered with dignified dynamism by Johnson, whose fully absorbing, applause-inducing portrayal is among the finest of the season.
Jeffers, Roberts and Johnson are fortunate to have the most compelling material, but Maddox, Fulmer and an appealingly understated Jeff Sams as Jack, the friendly caregiver coping with uncertainty in his personal and professional life, are equally solid. The tall, lanky Maddox, wearing a funny assortment of hats throughout, effortlessly lays the quirky groundwork for the play in the opening scene. Fulmer, speaking loudly and vigorously barreling his way through the action, shines during his tender scenes opposite Lisa Sadai as the adorably smitten Sheila. Sams, very good at being totally unpretentious, embodies Jack with a genuinely supportive, paternal temperament which makes the final moments unquestionably touching. Ellen Ballerene and Darren McGarvey effectively portray multiple roles that accent the authenticity of this meaningful and thought-provoking Guild achievement.
The Boys Next Door, which opened Friday, April 1, continues through Sunday, April 17 at the Dayton Theatre Guild, 430 Wayne Ave. Performances are Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 5 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Act One: 57 minutes; Act Two: 70 minutes. Tickets are $11-$18. For tickets or more information, visit www.daytontheatreguild.org or call (937) 278-5993.
In related news, the Guild’s 2011-12 season, dubbed Truth and Consequence, will feature Paula Vogel’s The Oldest Profession (Aug. 26-Sept. 11, 2011 directed by Greg Smith), Neil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers (Oct. 21-Nov. 6, 2011 directed by Fran Pesch), Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of Gerald Sibleyras’ Heroes (Jan. 6-22, 2012 directed by Fred Blumenthal), David Davalos’ Wittenberg (Mar. 16-Apr. 1, 2012 directed by Saul Caplan), Lee Blessing’s Going to St. Ives (Feb. 10-26, 2012 directed by Greg Smith) and Horton Foote’s Dividing the Estate (Apr. 27-May 13, 2012, directed by Ralph Dennler). The season extra productions will consist of Stephen Temperley’s Souvenir (Sept. 16-25, 2011), Ed Graczyk’s The Blue Moon Dancing (Dec. 2-8, 2011, directed by Greg Smith) and Neil Bartram and Brian Hill’s The Story of My Life (June 1-17, 2012, directed by Debra Kent). Additional information about the season including audition dates will soon be found online at www.daytontheatreguild.org or by calling (937) 278-5993.