Stageloft Presents Heartfelt ‘Boys Next Door’

Theater review: Stageloft presents heartfelt ‘Boys Next Door’

By Kevin T. Baldwin, Telegram & Gazette Reviewer

Posted Jan 13, 2018 at 8:55 AM Updated Jan 13, 2018 at 9:15 PM

STURBRIDGE — Stageloft Repertory Theater gives us a tender, heartfelt peek into the lives of several men in the Tom Griffin comedy-drama “The Boys Next Door.”

Consider that the extended two-act play was originally produced in 1986. So some of Griffin’s references made about the “attributes” of the men now seem dated.

Words like “retarded” are used, along with “mentally challenged” and “mentally disabled” among others that, in today’s label-opposed society (which, ironically, is also a label) are almost cringe-worthy.

But many of the “challenges” the men face are not specific, or rather limited, to their physical conditions but are exacerbated by their mutual group home living conditions, which also proves excruciating for their stressed out “caretaker” Jack (Jason Czernich) as tensions escalate throughout the show.

Jack occasionally breaks the fourth wall to convey to us the conditions and obstacles he faces working with each of the men who, like all people, vary in abilities, stability and capacities.

Czernich provides a keenly balanced performance of wanting to care for these men yet trying to maintain his sanity in the process.

First there is Arnold (Mark Axelson), who is more “high-functioning,” working as a maintenance man at a cinema. Arnold is well-spoken, punctuating most of his statements with his pinky fingers, and has an ongoing obsession with Russia.

Arnold also faces some serious bullying and verbal abuse by at least one of his co-workers. Axelson is compelling in the role, captivating us from the moment the show begins.

Next is Lucien (Derek Ormond) who is very childlike, suffering from a more severely diminished mental capacity. Lucien enjoys showing everybody his new library card, even though he cannot read. Ormond gives a thoughtful performance throughout the show with a startling, gripping monologue during the latter half of the second act.

Then there is Norman (Robert C. Latino) who falls somewhere between Lucien and Arnold in terms of his capabilities. Norman works at a doughnut shop, and brings home a lot of the day-old donuts.

There are many wonderfully sweet scenes between Latino as Norman and Stacie Beland who plays Sheila, a similarly challenged girl who lives at another group home and meets Norman at a “group” dance.

The most unusual roommate is Barry (Christopher Crockett-Sears) who almost seems the most ill-fitted to the living arrangement. Barry does golf, waxes eloquent (at least for Barry), and converses quite well with many people he interacts with outside the home in the surrounding community.

However Jack tells us early on that Barry suffers from a trauma-induced schizophrenia due to a violent upbringing, which becomes apparent late in Act Two when his estranged father (Dave Clark) visits. This is one of the most moving and powerful scenes in the entire show. Both Crockett-Sears and Clark are both superb in the scene.

Under Ed Cornely’s astute direction, the first act moves along quite well, but the second, even while equally divided by emotionally charged scenes and humorously raucous moments, meanders far too long to wrap up all the multiple storylines.

That being said, if you aren’t watching the clock, the time spent with all of these individuals is highly enlightening and entertaining.