I have two confessions to make before writing this review. The first is that I, as a member of the play-reading committee for the Bobcat Players, read Tom Griffin's The Boys Next Door a year ago and did not vote for it as a part of the 2017 season. I felt pained reading the antics of the characters and I wasn't sure that our audiences would enjoy it. Of course, I was once told by a wise director: "Plays are meant to be watched, not read." Secondly, you should know that I very rarely laugh while watching plays. I can indeed find them hilarious, but usually that reaction is internalized. On both counts, I was proved very wrong... And that wise director, for those who are wondering, was our very own Dave Neuhart, who has brought The Boys Next Door to life on our stage.
I attended The Boys Next Door on opening night, May 5, and was immediately surprised by how full of laughter the theater was within moments. (I was even more surprised that I was taking part in that laughter.) Andrew Mayle as Arnold Wiggins provides a strong opening with his monologue that instantly pulls audience members into the world of these "boys." He masters his character, both physically and vocally, and the audience waits with baited breath for his insight and recounting of experiences. Along with Mayle, Elisha Carleton as Lucien P. Smith and Josh Antoon as Norman Bulansky drive the show forward. There is such an strong chemistry between them and the audience feeds off of it right away.
The show's strength comes from the lovable quality of all of the characters, but this is strikingly true of Norman and Lucien. The childlike portrayal of Lucien by Carleton is incredibly effective, and is contrasted perfectly by his monologue in the second act. In fact, Carleton's intensity in this touching scene elicited instantaneous applause on opening night. Antoon as Norman maintains his character's small habits seamlessly throughout the entire show and is particularly hilarious when talking about girls. His relationship with Sheila, played by Catherine Hayashi, produced audible "aww"s from the audience. Hayashi wins the audience over with her doe-eyed portrayal, providing us with a truthful look at innocence.
While The Boys Next Door is a comedy, it is full of poignancy, shared predominately through Jack's narration. Will Rutherford is well-cast as the caretaker and I was especially fond of his moments with Antoon--notably, one scene where Jack anticipates what Norman will say next. The party scene towards the end is truly heart-wrenching.
Scott Hamilton and Bill Mackaly bring the drama to this comedy with their tense relationship. Hamilton as Barry Klemper builds his character masterfully throughout the play and Barry's pained nature is immediately evident. Mackaly is convincing as Barry's father and his entrance drastically changes the atmosphere of the play. There is so much more to say about this relationship, but I'm committed to leaving some elements unspoiled for our future audience members.
Robert Eric Armstrong and Olivia G. Paolini both play three different characters each throughout the show. Armstrong, a real presence on stage, is relatable as Mr. Corbin and fatherly as Senator Clarke. Paolini has a talent for character voices, which is well showcased in this play, and her relationship with Barry as Mrs. Fremus is exceptionally endearing.
The Boys Next Door has a cheeky script that requires a great level of talent; director Neuhart does the show justice, with assistance by Patty Hamilton. So far, the show has garnered us two five-star reviews on Facebook. And I left the theater swelling with pride to be a Bobcat Player. In a time where compassion seems to be in short supply, The Boys Next Door reminds us of the human condition and teaches a beautiful lesson in kindness to all who are willing to hear it.
Tickets are still available for The Boys Next Door, running May 11-13. All performances begin at 7:30 pm and tickets are $10. You can purchase online at www.bobcatplayers.yapsody.com, in person at the Hostess Gift Shoppe in Beaver, or by calling our box office at (724) 494-1680. You don't want to miss this wonderful season opener!