We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
There’s a moment in the Journeymen Theater’s The Boys Next Door when Dallas Darttanian Miller drops the tics and non sequiturs that make up his character, Lucien, and addresses the audience directly and eloquently. The moment is shocking, because, of the four men sharing the set’s group-home apartment, Lucien has thus far been the lowest-functioning, staring off into nothing and speaking a kind of pidgin. Unfortunately, when he addresses the audience, it is to layer author Tom Griffin’s here-but-for-the-grace-of-god-go-you moralizing onto what is otherwise a gentle comedy, an excuse for some good actors to I Am Sam it up. We’re introduced to life at the Stonehenge Villa when Arnold “I’m Basically a Nervous Person” Wiggins (Cecil E. Baldwin) pops up from behind the living-room couch. Arnold is the group spaz, constantly hand-wringing, working on mysterious plans, and worrying about diseases he might have. Childlike Norman (Don Prather) works at Dunkin’ Donuts and has a crush on a girl down at the center who lusts for his giant key ring. Finally, there’s Barry (Michael Propster), a schizophrenic who believes he’s a golf pro. As the boys pass each day just as they did the last, absorbed by their various fixations, a crisis looms: After eight months, their social worker, Jack (Deborah Kirby), has become burned out by their exhausting sameness and is looking for a new job. (But is this the crisis Griffin wants it to be, given that they must have gone through the same thing less than a year ago? This is not the only logic question raised by the script.) Director Jeff Keenan gives each member of the ensemble his moment in the spotlight, and, with so many mannerisms to display, they all dig joyously in. (Miller in particular earns his showstopping moment.) Kirby has the most to do, because, as her character says, “they never change. I change…” She portrays genuine affection and protectiveness for her charges, along with sadness that she has to get away. Her character, the audience’s proxy, sets the tone for the play, telling us it’s OK to laugh at the boys. But Lucien’s speech contradicts that point of view—and takes us into Very Special Episode territory. “Without me,” he says, “without my shattered crippled brain, you will never again be frightened by what you might have become. Or indeed, by what your future might make you.” So the boys next door don’t exist merely because they do, but, rather, to teach us how to be better people. —Janet Hopf