The Towne Players of Garner’s exuberant encore presentation of The Boys Next Door by Tom Griffin improves on the original April 21-29, 2000 production directed by Beth Honeycutt, designed by her husband Scott, and starring Holmes Morrison, Jeffrey Nugent, Rob Smith, and Rusty Sutton as four mentally challenged residents of a New England group home and Greg Flowers as the increasingly burned-out social worker who takes care of their needs and cares deeply about them.

Towne Players technical director Scott Honeycutt once again works scenic and lighting wonders in transforming the tiny stage of The Garner Historic Auditorium into a detailed facsimile of the living room/kitchen — complete with running water — of a group home in a Boston apartment complex.

A real pro when it comes to milking all the laughs from quirky comedies, Towne Players artistic director Beth Honeycutt coaches even deeper, more heartfelt, and more sharply etched characterizations from her five principals; and she assembles a strong supporting cast that enhances the humor and the poignancy of playwright Tom Griffin’s provocative Off-Broadway comedy.

Greg Flowers is warm and wryly witty as Jack Palmer, a sympathetic social worker trying to help his four adult male charges live independently and cope with their mental deficits, each others’ quirks and tics, and societal attitudes toward the mentally handicapped. Rob Smith is highly amusing as Arnold Wiggins, a thin, highly nervous group-home resident in baseball cap and horned-rim glasses. Arnold might well be the poster boy for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. In addition to OCD, which makes Arnold a jangling bundle of nerves, there is an unhealthy dash of paranoia that makes Arnold deeply suspicious of anything and everything new and different that he encounters in the group home, on the street, and on the job as a cleaner for a movie theater.

Rusty Sutton is a hoot as gravitationally challenged Norman Bulansky, who works at a doughnut shop and seems determined to eat enough doughnuts to reach his weight on Jupiter. Kelly Stansell is cute as Sheila, a pudgy, pig-tailed resident of another group home who has a monumental crush on Norman — or is it just Norman’s big bundle of keys that she covets?

Sharon Pearce contributes a vivid cameo as Sheila’s fretful friend Clara; and Jeffrey Nugent is charming as Barry Klemper, a dapper schizophrenic who thinks that he is a golf pro, dresses like the late U.S. Open winner Payne Stewart, and gives “lessons” to his neighbors in the apartment complex where the group home is located.

Frances Stanley is sweet and funny as Mrs. Fremus, a deaf widow who befriends Barry; but Jack Chapman’s portrayal of Mr. Klemper, Barry’s angry, one-armed, verbally and physically abusive father has a lot of rough edges.

But it is Holmes Morrison who once again steals the show with his passionate and emotionally powerful performance as severely retarded Lucien P. Smith, whose Social Security disability benefits are in jeopardy because of the latest round of legislative budget cuts. Lucien has the mind of a five year old, a love for Spiderman and his library card, and a touching childlike innocence that endears him to the audience. And Morrison plays Lucien’s naiveté and vulnerability to perfection.

The Towne Players’ passionate performance of The Boys Next Door will make Triangle theatergoers laugh out loud, but this affectionate and deeply sympathetic look at the travails of four mentally challenged adult men may also, quite unexpectedly, touch a heartstring or two. This highly entertaining and moving production is community theater at its best.


The Towne Players of Garner presents The Boys Next Door Thursday-Saturday, Jan. 20-22, at 8 p.m. in The Garner Historic Auditorium, 742 W. Garner Rd., Garner, North Carolina. $8 ($6 students and seniors), except $5 for groups of 10 or more. 919/779-6144. Towne Players of Garner:

PREVIEW: Towne Players of Garner: Five Leads Return for Encore Production of Offbeat Comedy The Boys Next Door

by Robert W. McDowell

The Towne Players of Garner will present an encore production of its uproarious rendition of The Boys Next Door, Tom Griffin’s highly entertaining but thought-provoking Off-Broadway comedy about four mentally challenged men living in a group home tended by a burned-out social worker, Jan. 14-22 in The Garner Historic Auditorium. The critically acclaimed community theater first produced this show April 21-29, 2000, with Greg Flowers playing the social worker and Holmes Morrison, Jeffrey Nugent, Rob Smith, and Rusty Sutton playing the group home’s residents. All five repeat their roles in this encore presentation.

The Boys Next Door has a little something for everyone,” claims Towne Players artistic director Beth Honeycutt. “It’s terribly funny. It’s terribly sad. It’s depressing. It’s uplifting. I have found that to be the case in life so I like that element in a show.”

She explains, “This cast feels very close to the characters. One cast member has a severely retarded brother who is in a group home similar to the one in this show. Another has a mildly retarded adult child who has learned to function in society. I had a schizophrenic brother who never could really function.

“This play has real meaning for us,” says Honeycutt. “I’ve always loved it, so when the ‘boys’ approached me about bringing it back, I agreed. When we first did The Boys Next Door, we were just starting out. Our audiences have grown so much since then that we felt it was reasonable to revisit.”

Beth Honeycutt says, “The Boys Next Door is about Jack (Greg Flowers), a social worker who supervises a group home for four mentally handicapped men. Arnold (Rob Smith) is a paranoid depressive who describes himself as ‘deeply nervous.’ Norman (Rusty Sutton) is a mildly retarded teddy bear who works at a doughnut shop and is in love with Sheila (Kelly Stansell). More severely handicapped is Lucien (Holmes Morrison), who loves Spiderman and his library card. The fourth member of the house is the most different, yet most disturbed. Barry (Jeffrey Nugent) is a lifelong schizophrenic who suffered abuse from his father (Jack Chapman) and struggles to fit into society.

She adds, “The play is a slice of Jack’s life as he ponders the questions of what these people would be like if they were ‘normal’ and whether he can continue as their social worker. Michael Armstrong (Mr. Hedges), Frances Stanley (Mrs. Fremus), Sharon Pearce (Clara), Ann Green (Senator Clarke), Carlene Cearley (Mrs. Warren), and Casey Dahlin (Mr. Corbin) take cameo roles to introduce us to the people in the boys’ lives.”

In addition to director Beth Honeycutt, the show’s creative team includes her husband, technical director Scott Honeycutt, and Jeffrey Nugent, who helped Beth and Scott Honeycutt design the set depicting the interior of a group home.

Honeycutt confesses, “My biggest challenge with this show is trying to honor how funny it really is without seeming to make fun of the characters. Believe me, I do not find retardation or mental illness funny; but it is important to keep in mind that these people do funny stuff just like the rest of us. I find it a disservice to mentally handicapped and ill people to portray them as weak, pathetic, sad, and somber. That simply isn’t true.”

She says, “We worked to make the set look like a group home. Many things would have been donated or bought at thrift stores, so things are a bit helter-skelter. The boys would have added lots of personal touches like Spiderman ‘stuff’ and handmade crafts. My husband’s favorite thing is the running water. My favorite touch is a really ugly painting I inherited actually painted and signed by Xavier Cugat.”

Beth Honeycutt says the show’s “costumes are by the ever-chic Army de Salvation and French designer Goodwill.”

She emphasizes, “The premise [of The Boys Next Door] sounds depressing, but it really is not! The show is hilarious. The cast is awesome. Of course, those are just my opinions.”

In reviewing the original Towne Players production, Robert’s Reviews wrote: “Rusty Sutton was terrific as roly-poly Norman Bulansky, who has a job in a local donut shop and a new girlfriend … whom he is always trying to impress. And Rob Smith was hilarious as a bundle of nerves, with a slightly paranoid outlook, named Arnold Wiggins.

“Holmes Morrison … stole the show as the childlike Lucien P. Smith, who Social Security benefits are threatened by yet another round of government budget cuts; and Jeffrey Nugent was excellent as Barry Klemper, a charming schizophrenic who fancies himself a golf pro.

“Greg Flowers was wonderfully wry as Jack Palmer, the sympathetic, but increasingly burned-out social worker who guides the men’s attempts to reintegrate themselves into society.”

The Towne Players of Garner presents The Boys Next Door Friday, Jan. 14, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 15, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Thursday-Saturday, Jan. 20-22, at 8 p.m. in The Garner Historic Auditorium, 742 W. Garner Rd., Garner, North Carolina. $8 ($6 students and seniors), except $5 for groups of 10 or more. 919/779-6144. Towne Players of Garner: