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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Complex Comedy

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  Tom Griffin’s comic drama The Boys Next Door brilliantly showcases a poignant, humorous story about people with developmental disabilities. The play deftly walks the line between complexity and accessibility by treating the characters as three-dimensional human beings instead of resorting to juvenile jokes or stereotypes. Beginning May 23, the Sunset Playhouse continues its 2007-2008 season with a production of this groundbreaking comedy.

  The play tells the story of Jack, a social worker at a group home for the mentally disabled. The four men he works with include a hyperactive man who works at a movie theater, a middle-aged man who works at a doughnut shop, a man who carries around an armload of books he can’t read and a schizophrenic who thinks he’s a professional golfer.

  The challenge for any production of TheBoys Next Door is to find actors capable of portraying complex, developmentally disabled characters without losing track of the play’s comedy.

  “Even at auditions…I’ve stressed how the success or failure of this show rides on an accurate portrayal of the characters,” says director Mark Salentine. Thirty-three people auditioned for nine roles, and Salentine says he tried to cast actors who represented the wide range of characters in the play. “We range from actors in their 20s to their 50s—black, white, some thin, some stout, some bald and some not,” he adds.

  Salentine says the cast consulted with psychological and social experts to ensure that the characters received the nuanced portrayals that are so crucial to the production. The emotional aspect is especially important to Salentine because he once sat through the first half of a production that didn’t get the portrayals right.

  “What was supposed to be poignant was merely over-dramatic schmaltz,” Salentine says. “I couldn’t take it and had to leave at intermission.”

  The Sunset Playhouse’s production of The Boys Next Door runs through June 14.

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