‘Boys Next Door’ play draws laughs and tears from audience

MANTI—Sanpete residents who attended the community theater production of “Boys Next Door” last weekend in the Eva Beal Auditorium in Manti came to see a comedy, and there was a lot that was funny, but a lot that was tragic and heart-wrenching, as the topic was about people who are handicapped.

Four handicapped men, some wards of the state, are trying to make do in a world that does not really appreciate or understand them. Each see the world through their own personalities; which we would call “not normal”, such as schizophrenic, neurotic, obsessive and compulsive.

A scene from “The Boys Next Door”, where David Allred as Lucien Smith, Matthew Bishop as donut-loving Norman Bulansky, and Karl Kelson as anxious Arnold Wiggins, examine a dead animal they have hunted down and crushed, that they think is a rat. (The animal in question is actually an escaped hamster from next door.)

Barry Klemper (played by Joshua Peterson) thinks he is a golf pro, and is desperately afraid of his abusive, controlling father. Norman Bulansky (played by Matthew Bishop) has mental disabilities, works at a donut shop and is overweight. His girlfriend Sheila (played by Crystal Call) also lives in a group home.

Arnold Wiggins, (played by Karl Kelson) works as a janitor at a movie theater, is hyperactive and talks constantly, and has a high degree of anxiety. Lucien Smith (played by David Allred) has profound debilitating disorders, and cannot read, but still checks out lots of books. Jack Palmer (played by Jason Hansen) is their social worker and is increasingly stressed out working with the men.

Judy Chantry plays Mrs. Fremus, a neighbor with poor hearing, Kenneth Glenn plays Mr. Hedges (a golf student of Barry’s), Mr. Klemper (Barry’s abusive father), and Senator Clarke on the Senate subcommittee.

One particularly humorous scene is when the boys think there is a rat in their apartment and hunt it down, finally pummeling under their bodies and flushing it down the toilet. The next day they get a visit from a neighbor, Karen, played by Cathi Call, who asks if they have seen her son’s escaped hamster. Cathi also plays Clara, handicapped friend of Sheila. The boys realize what has happened but can’t tell her the truth.

Other humorous scenes happen when the boys attend a social dance. Norman interacts with a girl he likes, Sheila, and they briefly dance. Sheila is obsessed with Norman’s keys, which probably represent independence to her.

The audience laughs a lot, but as the play progress, the darker side of being handicapped is seen, as the boys share their pasts which include bullying, abuse, and ridicule.

One of the final scenes is where Lucien is brought to a Senate hearing to testify to a subcommittee trying to see if Lucien can function in regular society. Lucien breaks down. “It be hard,” he cries. He then comes out of character and shares a profound spotlight scene where he gives the audience reasons why being handicapped is so tragic, leaving most of the audience in tears.

The play was directed and produced by Nanette Bramwell. Tasia Kelson directed the lights and scenic design and construction was by Joshua Peterson. Jason Hansen operated the sound.

Director Bramwell says, “The child-like innocence of these characters and unique way they approach life makes them universally appealing. They see all the colors of the world, but like a kaleidoscope, they rearrange them into interesting and sometimes beautiful patterns.”

A couple of hundred members of the community attended the productions, which is sponsored by Miracle Theatre, a Manti-based community group.

“It was pretty awesome working with these actors and watching them go from a rag-tag group of people to great actors was a great experience,” Branwell said. “Coming out of our COVID restrictions, the community got to have some good laughs and see the fine-tuned performances from local people.”