Metropolis succeeds in shining a light on special needs
|Metropolis Performing Arts Centre presents|
|The Boys Next Door|
|Written by Tom Griffin
Directed by David Belew
Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights (map)
through Feb 13 | tickets: $35-$43 | more info
Reviewed by Allegra Gallian
Arnold has decided that he’s going to move to Russia. Barry thinks he’s a golf star. Norman can’t stop eating donuts and Lucien is concerned that they don’t have any trees. These men are all roommates and they all have special needs. They’re looked after by Jack, the caretaker who works with them. Metropolis Performing Arts Centre’s production of The Boys Next Door, tenderly written by Tom Griffin, tells the story of how these five men’s lives are interwoven and the effect each man has on the other.
The set, designed by Adam L. Veness, initially consists of a typical-looking, unassuming front porch complete with shutters on the windows and a rocking chair out front. Painted a deep green, it looks inviting and charming. Once the show begins, the house opens down the middle like an oversized doll house to reveal the inside rooms, in particular the apartment the four men live in. Although moving the set piece is noisy, it’s an interesting visual to get a glimpse into the inner and outer workings of this building.
The Boys Next Door opens on the men having a typical day. Arnold (Andrew J. Pond) has been to the market and explains his trip as well as his condition as he understands it. He’s a “nervous person,” he says, and Pond is immediately charming and engaging. His characterization of Arnold is strong and humanized. Also introduced are Norman (David Elliot) and Lucien (Bear Bellinger). They are the two of the four men who live in the apartment. Both Elliot and Bellinger play their characters in a charming and lovely manner. It’s clearly evident that these actors did their research in order to learn every aspect of their characters and it comes across and genuine and believable. It’s not actors playing parts, but rather actors transforming into these new people and fully embodying these men. The fourth roommate is Barry (Adam Kander), who, like the rest, has been fully embraced and brought life. Kander carefully shows the cracks in Barry’s seemingly put together demeanor to reveal the true feelings underneath – you can’t help but feel for him.
As the men are going about their lives, Jack (Michael B. Woods), their caretaker, comes in to check on them. He is sweet and patient with these men; it’s evident he sincerely cares about them. Like the others, Woods put a lot of thought and consideration into his character. What makes him feel most genuine is the fact that he is not sugarcoated nor does Woods play him as such. Jack shows the audience all sides of his life, including the fact that he loses his temper on occasion with the men and that he is burning out in his current situation. Woods does a wonderful job of displaying the range of emotions, allowing it to feel like the audience gets a glimpse into the real life of this man.
Every week the men attend a dance, and it’s here where Norman meets his girlfriend Sheila (Denise Tamburrino). She’s sweet and lovely, although not as believable as the men in her characterization. Michelle Ziccarelli rounds out the main portion of the cast, playing the multiple characters of Mrs. Fremus, Mrs. Warren and Clara, distinctly defining each one.
David Belew’s adept direction keeps energy and emotion of the show moving at a quick pace. In fact, when Act I ended I looked at my watch and was shocked at how time had flown by. Same goes for Act II. Although the ending seems a little abrupt and like the action should continue, the pace is quick and the energy stays high the whole time.
The Boys Next Door waivers on that fine line between comedy and tragedy, pulling from both to create a touching, funny, sad and wonderful portrayal of how five men live their lives and what it means to have each other in their lives. They create a genuine emotional connection with the audience that both tickles the funny bones and pulls on the heart strings. Mostly importantly, the play never mocks or pokes fun at those with special needs, but simply offers a glimpse into their lives.
The Boys Next Door plays at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St. Arlington Heights, Ill., through February 20. Tickets are $35 to $43 and can be purchased here. Read an excerpt from The Boys Next Door.
- Bear Bellinger, Lucien P. Smith
- David Elliot, Norman Bulansky
- Adam Kander, Barry Klemper
- Andrew J. Pond, Arnold Wiggins
- Brian Rabinowitz, Mr. Klemper
- Marshall Stern, Mr. Corbin/Senator Clarke/Mr. Hedges
- Denise Tamburrino, Sheila
- Michael B. Woods, Jack
- Michelle Ziccarelli, Mrs. Fremus/Mrs. Warren/Clara
- Jack Birdwell, Barry Klemper & Jack U/S
- Amy Gorelow, (Sheila & Mrs. Fremus/Mrs. Warren/Clara u/s)
- Joshua Harris (Arnold Wiggins u/s
- Chuck Sisson (Mr. Klemper & Mr. Corbin/Senator Clarke/Mr. Hedges u/s)
- Tom Griffin (playwright)
- David Belew (Director)
- Robin M. Hughes (Artistic Dir./Dir. of Production)
- Eamonn McDonagh (Technical Director)
- Adam L. Veness (Scenic Designer)
- Steve Ptacek (Sound Designer)
- Yousif Mohamed (Resident Lighting Designer)
- Vicky J. Strei (Resident Costume Designer)
- Cindy Ottensmeyer (Properties Desigenr)
- Carly Franz (Assistant Production Manager)
- Hillary Gibson (Stage Manager)
- Karen Berger (Assistant Stage Manager)
- William A. Franz (Head of Sound)
- Michael Wagner (Master Electrician)
- Melissa Neal (Wardrobe)