Thursday, November 1, 2012

Visit "The Boys Next Door" at the Wilmington Drama League

Pictured: Alan Harbaugh, Shawn Kline, and Tom Hartzell
The second production of the Wilmington Drama League’s (WDL) 2012 – 13 season is Tom Griffin’s The Boys Next Door. The play, set in the late 1980s, perfectly captures the treatment of people living with a mental challenge and/or living with a mental illness. Deb Johnson successfully directs this piece that could easily offend, or be considered un-PC. She does a great job handling a delicate topic, making sure her cast gives full respect to their characters, never letting them become caricatures.

The play, primarily set in a group home where four men (Arnold, Lucien and Norman, who are mentally challenged and Barry, who is living in recovery with mental illness) reside. Each man is contending with a crisis: Arnold (Eric Merlino), the nervous do-gooder is being taken advantage of by his co-workers at the local movie theater; Norman (Shawn Kline), the happy-go-lucky donut shop worker who has been gaining weight since he developed an insatiable craving for the circular cakes and is also sorting through his developing feelings for Sheila (Tina M. Sheing), who is also mentally challenged; Lucien (Alan Harbaugh), the sweetheart of the group is preparing to go before a government panel to defend his need for social security benefits; and Barry (Edward Stein), the most competent one of the group is anticipating his abusive father’s (Robert Touhey) visit. Assisting these men is a social worker, Jack (Tom Hartzell), who is contemplating a job change.

The play is like watching a week in the life of these characters. A chance to see how individuals who are living with mental challenges and mental illnesses have a longing to connect with others and be part of the community, just like everyone else.

Each actor gives a compelling performance. Mr. Kline and Ms. Sheing’s scenes together are touching. It’s sweet to watch these two actors interact and convey the feelings of falling in love. The scene between Mr. Stein and Mr. Touhey is gritty and raw. Effortlessly, the actors create an intense scene between an ill son and a father who resorts to abuse because he is unable to relate to his own son.

Mr. Harbaugh’s performance as Lucien is a standout. His tone and movement are flawless. He was so convincing that at times I forgot he was an actor playing a part; I wanted to help him along his journey.

Although the play tackles serious topics, for the most part it does it with humor and warmth. It moves like a TV sitcom - a series of vignettes shifting from one character’s situation to another.

See The Boys Next Door now through November 4, at WDL. For tickets, visit or call 302.764.1172.

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