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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

You'll Just Adore The Boys Next Door at Stageright Theatre


Kate Moyer, Erica Presley and Buddy Mahoney
The Boys Next Door by playwright Tom Griffin is a small gem of a human comedy/drama receiving what I believe is its first Seattle production by Stageright Theatre at the Richard Hugo House. In the capable hands of director Jay Irwin, the story of four adult men with various mental disabilities and their devoted but exasperated social worker comes through as the tender valentine to these special people the author intended, through a series of vignettes depicting roughly two months in their daily lives.

Jack Palmer, a social worker, manages several group homes, one of which house four disparate individuals: Arnold Wiggins, a middle aged movie theatre janitor with a mild mental disability and obsessive/compulsive behaviors; Norman Bulansky, a doughnut shop worker made obese by consuming too many of the doughnuts, also mildly mentally disabled and obsessive about his ring of keys; Lucien P. Smith, a childlike, severely mentally disabled African-American man facing a State Senate hearing to determine whether he is faking his condition; and Barry Klemper, a 28-year-old schizophrenic victim of childhood abuse who fancies himself a golf pro. We see Arnold dealing with a bullying co-worker at the movie theatre who forces Arnold to perform menial tasks at threat of physical abuse, Norman pursuing a dating relationship with Sheila, a sweet mentally disabled friend, Lucien trying to prepare himself for his presentation to the "State Sneck" as he refers to it, and Barry working himself to a long-awaited visit from his estranged father which leads to dire consequences. While helping the men cope with their daily life struggles, Jack is quickly burning out at being a caregiver for grown adults who "never change." He arrives at a decision to resign for a job at a travel agency, and must face how his charges will cope with his departure.

The two most notable performers in this well-modulated staging are Buddy Mahoney as Norman and Vincent J. Orduna as Lucien. Mahoney is as endearing and funny as one could wish as the doughnut popping Norman, and especially shines in his courtship scenes opposite Kate Moyer's jovial Sheila, especially when their dance to an Astaire song goes from shuffling reality to shimmering fantasy. Orduna's detailed performance as Lucien is masterful, and in the Senate appeal scene, where the playwright gives the actor a moment to show what Lucien would say if he could articulate it, Orduna is profoundly affecting. Roland Carette-Meyers' Arnold is also touchingly amusing despite a tendency to seem like an over-wound Woody Allen in places. Joshua Johnson plays Barry a bit too disturbed at the outset, but is affecting in the scene where his visit from his brutish father, played with appropriate bombast and vulgarity by Michael Ramquist, sends him off the rails. Doug Fahl in the rather thankless role of Jack falters in the early scenes, but gains momentum throughout the evening as Jack's frustrations grow. Donald Thorpe and Erica Presley fill character roles as outsiders and neighbors effective, Presley particularly shining as the severely mentally disturbed Clara in a confrontation with Mahoney's Norman. And it should be duly noted that Mahoney, Orduna, Carette-Meyers and Johnson click in tandem as the boys interact in their home.

Dana Mitchell's set design ably goes from the primary abode of the boys to scenes set outside without needless elaboration, with effective lighting design by Jordan Sell (save some lighting mis-cues at the performance I caught). Katie Kuntz's costumes were perfectly characterful, and Rosemary Crawford's prop designs enhance the prop heavy show.

The Boys Next Door will mean a lot to those in the audience with special needs friends and family members, and the production's high quality is a sure-sign of Stageright's ascendance in the Seattle Theatre Community.

The Boys Next Door runs through May 11, 2013, at Richard Hugo House 1634 11th Ave on Capitol Hill in Seattle. For performance and ticket information, please visit www.seattlestageright.org/.


Photo: courtesy of Stageright



- David Edward Hughes



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