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Friday, Nov. 15, 2013

Marquette’s Deft Examination of ‘The Boys Next Door’

Group Home Comedy

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Marquette University admirably tackles a challenging comedy with its production of Tom Griffin’s The Boys Next Door. Set in Boston in the ’80s, it’s a comedy about men suffering from mental disabilities who live in a group home. They live on their own, watched over by a social worker who helps them manage the tricky path of life in a world they don’t quite fit into.

Griffin’s comedy is delicate business, asking us to laugh at people with serious mental problems—which can feel cruel if the comedy isn’t presented perfectly. Director Bill Watson does a pretty good job of placing the comedy in the right sympathetic light. He’s aided by impressive performances in some key roles. Armando Ronconi is heartbreakingly likable as middle-aged doughnut shop employee Norman Bulansky; he is vivid in a role that requires the physical and emotional presence of a man suffering from profound mental deficiencies. Amy Burzak plays the emotional/intellectual mirror to Bulansky as his girlfriend. In a moment of symbolic grace, the two of them perform a graceful ballroom dance that pulls away from the reality of the comedy.

Oumaru Abdulahi’s performance as Lucien P. Smith has a depth that feels irresistibly endearing. Towards the end of the play, the character breaks from his intellectual impairments and speaks as a brilliant orator. Abdulahi doesn’t quite manage the gravitas that the moment deserves, but his performance in the rest of the play is nearly flawless. There’s a great deal of potential in much of the rest of the ensemble in a production of satisfying depth.

Marquette University’s production of The Boys Next Door runs through Nov. 17, at the Helfaer Theatre, 525 N. 13th St. For tickets, call 414-288-7504.

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