Quick comedic monologues. Heartbreaking situations. Characters developing together.
At first glance, Tom Griffin’s “The Boys Next Door,” seems to be a simple play, containing these three common character building methods. However, these methods developed characters rarely found on the stage: four mentally disabled men.
The Waynesburg University Players are bringing this performance alive in the Goodwin Performing Arts Center. Performances started Wednesday night and will run through Sunday, Nov. 10, with start times scheduled for 7:30 p.m.. The play looks into the lives and struggles of four men, each with a different disability. Their caregiver, Jackie, comes to their house to watch them, and gives monologues on each of the men and the individual predicaments. Freshman biology major James Gallucci, and who plays one of the four men, Barry Klemper, said the play brought to life the struggles of those with disabilities.
“Special people are real, and they do have needs and wants,” Gallucci said. “People shouldn’t cast them aside. Everyone has goals, everyone has wants in life and everyone has a drive, and its evident in every single one of those characters.”
Pulling off a play with a sensitive topic as a focal point is difficult in today’s society. . The play’s director, professor of theatre Eddie Powers, director of said that because of that nature, the topic is usually passed over when writing new plays.
“It’s hard to portray a special needs character honestly and appropriately,” Powers said. “It also might be a delicate subject, and playwrights wonder if they are going to do the subject justice.”
This hasn’t stopped Powers, however, from choosing the play. Powers first put on “The Boys Next Door,” in 2002. Powers said he has kept the play essentially the same, with some changes in props and actor placement, but the storytelling is just as powerful.
“…We had some special need caregivers attend the show [in 2002], and they said, ‘this show really hits the nail on the head. This show gets it right,’” Powers said.
While the actors captured the personality of their character, Powers said, the process to get there was difficult. Each had to rely on experiences with acquaintances and family to know how to properly act their part.
“I think most of us know someone or have a family member who could be classified as special needs,” Powers said. “So we can draw from our personal experiences, from our family. We don’t stop loving them because of their limitation, we love them more, if anything. That is the approach we took in this show.”
While the play focuses on the struggles of each man, it also uses comedic relief throughout the entire play. Powers and Gallucci said they have heard some people speak against the play, claiming it essentially makes of people who have a disability.. Both ensure, however, that the actors in “The Boys Next Door,” aren’t using the disabled characters as comedy fodder.
“I think [the audience] should keep an open mind; shouldn’t judge a book by its cover,” Gallucci said. “Even though this is about special-needs people and it’s a comedy, people seem to think we are making fun of them, but we really aren’t. It’s really pointing out funny things that happen in their life as they try to get through their daily life.”