BWW Review: THE BOYS NEXT DOOR Delights Austin
Given the politically correct societal norms of the current day, it is refreshing to see Tom Griffin's THE BOYS NEXT DOOR come to life. Making their directorial debut during The City Theatre's 10th anniversary season, co-directors Lacey Cannon Gonzales and husband Carl Gonzales capture the highs and lows experienced by a collection of lively characters with intellectual disabilities. The love between this group of misfits is unseen by most audiences. With the honesty presented regarding the character's disabilities, one could potentially feel uncomfortable. No such feeling is present during this rendition. The care and love the company took in presenting this piece in a raw and honest way was highly impressive. By allowing us to peek into the lives of Arnold (Heath Thompson), Norman (R. Michael Clinkscales), Lucien (McArthur Moore) and Barry (Tony Salinas), the characters impediments bring a roller coaster of heart-warming laughter and heart-breaking sighs, letting you laugh without guilt, and cry without pity.
The fiercely entertaining cast of roommates executes the comedy through harnessing the character's impediments and ticks, making for an excellently timed wrestling match. This rhythm keeps the audience entertained during the show's creative staging. One highlight is a fantastic scene where the roommates are flying across a darkened stage, lit only with flashlights, trying to catch and kill a "rat". The director's innovative lighting choice makes the audience feel as though a rat could scurry between the seats, resulting in an audience member to be tackled by Norman. This engagement lends to the rest of show, where the audience is consistently "trying to keep up" with the character's body language, speech patterns, and obsessions. Thompson and Moore express genuine physicality for their characters (Arnold and Lucien). As a result, the audience may feel themselves "rocking" and "ticking" with the duo, trying to better understand the frustrating yet funny, predicaments the friends continue to find themselves in. Along with the committed physicality, audiences can expect to find top-notch vocal presence through Salinas (playing Barry), where his outlandish and confusing golf obsession, demands him to be heard - that is, until he isn't. R. Michael Clinkscales fully and genuinely commits to his impediments, speech, and intentions, so much so that by the end of Act I, the audience is eager to see how he will handle dating and his career at the donut shop. A break in the madness can be found in the "boys" caregiver, Jack (played by Chance McKee). As their handsome and likable ring leader, he acts as a liaison between the audience and the wild characters. However, the way these sides are delivered depended much on the writing by Tom Griffin and not by active story telling on stage. Overall, the company carries this show very well, with the flat moments falling on the supporting cast.
Tom Griffin's writing brilliantly raises the stakes for this cast of characters, demanding answers for each: Will Norman give Sheila his keys? How scary is Barry's Dad? Where will Lucien go after his court date? When will Arnold behave himself? I highly recommend answering these questions for yourself at The City Theatre's show THE BOYS NEXT DOOR playing January 15 - February 7th. As a show, it is great for all ages and provokes self-reflection through the lives of some unlikely characters, whom we do not get to meet everyday.
Photo Credit: Andy Berkovsky