Comic drama comes to Sarasota stage

Robert Griffin's 'The Boys Next Door' opens at the Players Theatre

mclear@bradenton.comJuly 11, 2013 

Stephen Pustai and Ellie Pattison star in "The Boys Next Door." PUBLICITY PHOTO

"The Boys Next Door" has been popular with regional theater companies and their audiences for more than a quarter of a century. But that's not why Jeffery Kin is excited about the upcoming production at the Players Theatre.

"I like plays that give you some insight into the lives, into who we are," said Kin, the Players' artistic director. "And I like plays that makes us realize that we really don't have it so bad."

"The Boys Next Door," the best-known play by Robert Griffin, revolves around four men with various mental challenges who share an apartment in a group home. One has the intelligence of a 5-year-old; another suffers from schizophrenia.

They're cared for by a social worker named Jack. He hasn't been at job all that long, but as the play opens he is already getting burned out. Every day presents a different set of challenges for the four men, Jack tells the audience, but for him every day is the same.

The play, which unfolds in vignettes rather than a standard plot, takes us through a period of about two months in the men's lives. It's equal parts comedy and drama.

Although he describes it as a 'simple play,' " Kin says "The Boys Next Door" is a demanding and challenging one for actors who have to inhabit the minds of people whose view of their environment is separate from our own. One character is mystified by elevators. Another is illiterate, but continually checks armloads of intellectually demanding books from the library. The actors have to let the audience see the humor in the characters and their plights and still celebrate their humanity

The play itself has an unusual history. It premiered in the early 1980s under the title "Damaged Hearts, Broken Flowers" but remained obscure until it was retitled in 1987. It became an Off-Broadway hit and then, in 1996, an acclaimed TV movie starring Nathan Lane, Robert Sean Leonard, Tony Goldwyn and Mare Winningham.

The Players Theatre production, which opens today, features several area regulars, including Ren Pearson as Barry, a man who has schizophrenia and believes that he's a professional golfer, and Barry Look as his abusive father. It's directed by Players stalwart Elliot Raines.

Details: July 11-28, The Players Theatre, 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Show times: 7:30 p.m. July 11-12, 25 and 27, 2 p.m. July 14 and 28. Tickets: $18. Information: 941-365-2494, www.theplayers.org.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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