Profoundly affecting performance

‘The Boys Next Door’ takes thoughtful look at mentally challenged adults

Rueben Carrion (from left), Francis Taua, Leighanna Locke and John Galvan in a scene from “The Boys Next Door.” Jack Grace photo

Stage Review

Powerful, emotional and, at times, upsetting, realistic theatrical art can be box-office poison. If that is the case, why are heavy-hitting dramas and avant-garde performing art pieces ever produced, when light-hearted musical-comedies pack theaters nightly all over the world?

I don’t have the answer, but I am thankful that important theater is presented by all of our Maui theaters annually, regardless of the fact that many times the best of Maui’s performing arts offerings are sparsely attended.

Maui OnStage’s “The Boys Next Door,” currently playing at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku, is just such a show, but it’s more than that — it is a seminal work of importance filled with questions, very few answers and a heart that may influence you for a lifetime.

“Boys” is dated, and some of its language is clinically incorrect for the 21st century, but the message of the play still rings true. What makes “Boys” worth seeing is the manner in which playwright Tom Griffin creates characters that preserve their dignity in their world, which is, to quote Lucian P. Smith (Rueben Carrion), a place of “utter confusion.”

Carrion as Lucien (left) with his social worker, portrayed by Shane Borge. Jack Grace photo

Set in 1987, four mentally challenged men share a Boston apartment where they are under the part-time supervision of the mentally exhausted young social worker, Jack Palmer (Shane Borge). The four men have challenges that are often in opposition to one another with one constant bond — the incapability to change. These characters cannot grow.

Jack can evolve, and Borge’s arc understandingly acknowledges his weaknesses and inability to properly care for the four. Borge skillfully portrays an unenviable character — a man we can identify with. Jack is flawed, likeable, though unhopeful. At times, he does not warrant our sympathies.

Arnold Wiggins (Francis Taua) is the highest functioning of Jack’s four wards. He is littered with constant compulsions. Arnold is highly excitable and prone to intense panic attacks. Taua has many a moment capturing the mayhem of Arnold comedically.

In some ways, his Arnold is not so different from “Seinfeld’s” George Costanza. The character is neurotic, subject to bullying and when appalled and fatigued by his world, he threatens to move to Russia.

Carrion’s Lucian is the least functioning, but the most endearing. His pure and trusting portrayal is supremely realistic, as are his childlike, tearful breakdowns.

Maui Academy of Performing Arts showcases hip-hop, jazz, ballet and contemporary dance performances in its two-day “Spring Extravaganza” this weekend at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului. Peter Liu photo

Norman Bulansky (John Galvan) is enormously sweet, thoughtful and vulnerable. Galvan’s loving depiction is layered yet burdened with few acting tools at hand due to Norman’s disabilities and soft-spoken nature.

Barry Klemper (Dan Church) is considerably different from his roommates. Barry is a schizophrenic and subject to delusions and irritability. On the surface, he appears as merely eccentric.

Theatrically, the four characters cannot experience a catharsis and advance. As an audience, we learn not to expect a character arc and resolution. Instead, we value their small victories and empathize with their heartbreaking defeats.

And then we meet Sheila, played superbly by Leighanna Locke. In my opinion, “Boys” would not work without an inspirational Sheila, and Locke delivers that and more. This award-worthy performance is so rich that one could swear that they know someone exactly like her. The sweetness of Locke and Galvan’s relationship is the true heart of “Boys,” and both actors steal the show in Act 1’s end, as well as Norman’s “most best present ever” moment in Act 2.

Supporting performances also enhance this poignant production, but not all are as pleasant. Paul Janes Brown’s Act 2 appearance as Barry’s father, Mr. Klemper — a man both feared and revered by Barry — is a tough scene to watch. According to Barry, Mr. Klemper is a coach for the New York Yankees and personal friend to Boston sports legends Ted Williams and Bob Cousy. However, the man we meet is abusive and, perhaps, the sole cause of Barry’s life of pain and dismal downfall. Dale Button and Megan Caccamo portray multiple friends and associates at a focused level rarely seen in small supporting roles on Maui.

Director Ricky Jones has assembled a highly advanced dream-team cast with the thoughtfulness necessary to present this story compassionately. Its crescendo, though not its conclusion, is the bravura scene offered by Carrion’s Lucien to Button’s Senator Clarke when Lucien steps outside of his limitations for a flickering moment to elucidate his “confusion” to the audience. Carrion’s authoritative presence and permeating sentiments makes “Boys” worth seeing alone. Many may pass on experiencing chicken-skin drama, but those that don’t will be profoundly affected by these performances.

• Maui OnStage continues its drama, “The Boys Next Door.” Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through May 12 at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. Tickets are $20 to $40. To purchase tickets for any Iao Theater event call 242-6969 or order online at www.mauionstage.com.

Also this week

Maui Academy of Performing Arts presents “Spring Extravaganza 2019.” Opening the weekend of dance showcases at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in Castle Theater at Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului is “Let’s Dance # 1,” which features dancers of all ages strutting their stuff in hip-hop, jazz, ballet and contemporary.

That evening at 7:30, MAPA’s most experienced dancers collaborate with guest artists to present advanced original choreography in “MOVES.” Guest artists include Seabury Dance Ensemble, Alexander Academy, Adaptations Dance Theater and PUreMOTIONz Dance.

Sunday afternoon is “Let’s Dance # 2” at 12:30, and at 6 p.m., MAPA’s upper-level ballerinas present Sergei Prokofiev’s “Cinderella.”

• Tickets range from $17 to $22 (plus applicable fees). To purchase tickets for any MACC event, visit the box office, call 242-7469 or order online at www.mauiarts.org. 

*****

ProArts concludes “Avenue Q,” music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, book by Jeff Whitty, directed by David Belew, puppetry direction by Stephie Garrett and under the musical direction of Vania Jerome.

This flawless smash-hit production is the must-see show of Maui’s theater season. Inspired by “Sesame Street,” the irreverent musical-comedy presents a puppet-filled world with outrageous R-rated realities.

• Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the ProArts Playhouse in Azeka Shopping Center Makai in Kihei. Tickets are $26. For more information or to purchase tickets for any ProArts event, call 463-6550 or visit www.pro artsmaui.com. “Avenue Q” contains adult content and is not appropriate for children.

*****

The Baldwin High Performing Arts Learning Center and Baldwin Theatre Guild presents its 15th annual “Variety Show Extravaganza.” The original revue, created by Baldwin students, features singing, dancing and skits.

“This is a truly original one-of-a-kind show,” enthuses Director Linda Carnevale. “The students always come up with a wide range of ideas — whether Broadway, film, movies or TV. This show always promises to be totally new, fun and entertaining.”

• Performances are 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, opening Friday and running through May 11 and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 12 in the Loudon Mini-Theatre at back of the H.P. Baldwin High School campus in Wailuku. General admission tickets are $5 and are available at the box office 30 minutes prior to show time.

Upcoming

Maui OnStage’s ONO! (One Night Only) series returns with a staged reading of “The Savannah Sipping Society” by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten. In this comedy, four unique Southern women, all needing to escape the sameness of their day-to-day routines, are drawn together by Fate, and an impromptu happy hour, and decide it’s high time to reclaim the enthusiasm for life they’ve lost through the years.

• The performance is at 6:30 p.m. Monday, May 13 at the Historic Iao Theater. The free ONO! events happen every second Monday of the month. For more information, visit www.mauionstage.com.

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