by Chris Davis
A day or so after dropping in on The Boys Next Door I received a call from Brent Davis, the executive director for Germantown Community Theater, which is never a bad thing. GCT has a longstanding reputation for cleaning up potty-mouthed plays and he wanted to know if I was surprised to hear a few F-bombs dropped at the Sunday matinee. I wasn't, especially—- and being entirely in agreement with Penn and Teller on the subject of profanity—- I wasn't really interested in talking about the things we do to appease the pinch-faced philistines who've been known to hold our theaters hostage with their purse strings.
Germantown is full of grownups too. And sometimes even the philistines in the crowd like to be treated like adults. But now I'm wandering far off course.
The Boys Next Door isn't a very good play. Or, maybe it's better to say that the show's situationally-linked vignettes are, in almost every case, more satisfying than the whole pizza pie. It is, however, a great vehicle for actors and GCT's production boasts some noteworthy performances by John Richard Reed, Marc Gill, Jeff White, Jason Gerhard, Joseph Johnson, Marler Stone, Emily Peckham, Tamara Wright, and James Dale Green.
The show revolves around Jack who's either a burned out social worker or a directionless slacker who can't stick with a job for more then eight months. He watches over a group home where several intellectually challenged men reside. The show walks a fine line between education and exploitation, with lots of uncomfortable laughter and some nicely managed but still too-obvious tugs at the heartstrings along the way.
I spent two very rewarding years working to create original plays for a group of young adults with a spectacular inventory of special needs. We worked together, ate pizza together, played games, sang and everybody danced, even if they were in a wheelchair. And they all shared their lives with me, telling stories about everything from their day to day struggles with para-transit to romantic fantasies inspired by Disney cartoons to awkwardly candid, and hilariously self-aware accounts of stolen moments and sexual misadventure. There was a lot of comedy and a lot of tragedy and although a lot of these wonderful people would require help for the rest of their lives, there was a lot of personal growth and against-the-odds victories seemed to happen every day. Based on that experience I can say with some authority that Tom Griffin's characters are very real. But they are also incomplete. The exploitation and traumas he hints at are ultimately as superficial as Jack's great epiphany: "I change, but they never do." Or something like that.
The Boys Next Door closes Sunday and fans who value good acting over good writing (cussing not withstanding) may want to give it a spin.
Tamara Wright and Jason Gerhard make a lovely couple and their dances are more inspiring than a vintage clip of Fred and Ginger.
Marler Stone, who pulled double duty as an actor and director, has done better work on both sides of the footlights. His thoughtful use of original music gives the production a cinematic feel and flow. It helps to give the play's weak narrative a little muscle.
For more information: This.