“The Boys Next Door” Play Aims to Open Minds
“A drama with funny moments.” That’s how actor Rueben Carrion describes The Boys Next Door, a poignant play from 1988 that’s showing at the Historic ‘Īao Theater in Wailuku from Friday, April 26 to Sunday, May 12.
Carrion says he admires the energy and friendly nature of his character Lucien P. Smith, an adult with the mind of a five-year-old who imagines he can read and comprehend the weighty books he lugs around. He lives in a group home with three other men, all who have different mental challenges.
Arnold Wiggins is a hyper, compulsive chatterer who suffers from deep-seated insecurities and a persecution complex. Actor Francis Taua laughs that his character’s mind works a lot faster than his own, but says he’s glad topics like autism see more acceptance and awareness in today’s society.
“I’ve had kids in my theatre groups that were somewhere on the spectrum, and I feel like now that we talk about it more, you as an educator are better able to figure out how to motivate them or keep them involved,” he explains. “I’ve noticed that for kids, because we’re talking about it more, it’s not a thing with them; they’re like, ‘Well, sometimes they shout!’ and they’re okay with that.”
Norman Bulansky works in a doughnut shop and is unable to resist the lure of the sweet pastries. Actor John Galvan says he remembers the particular rehearsal where “my Norman came out” as one of the most incredible experiences as his career.
“I like to think he’s a medium- to high-functioning autistic man, with a lot of hopes and dreams like we all have. He’s such a part of me now,” he reflects.
The Boys Next Door is sponsored by Bocha Company, a behavioral health organization on Maui that provides support services to individuals with special needs. In fact, the group helped connect Galvan with a special needs man and his caregiver as part of his acting research.
“I spent some time with them, which was wonderful,” says Galvan. “Between that and having a conversation with the caretaker and observing, it opened my mind so much.”
The fourth resident, Barry Klemper, is a brilliant schizophrenic who fantasizes that he’s a golf pro.
“For me, it was about what makes Barry who he is beyond his disability or mental illness, and then figuring out how does mental illness impact who you are,” says actor Dan Church, “because I don’t think he would say that is the first thing that he thinks about of who he is or what other people think about him.”
Church says he’s okay if the audience has mixed reactions to the characters. See our video above for more insights from the actors and director on the impact of this play.
“I really want people to be left with a lot of feelings and maybe some conflicting feelings, of not being sure what they should think about some of our characters,” he explains, “because I think that’s a lot of people in our lives.”
In the communal residence, the men live under the supervision of Jack Palmer, a “burned out” young social worker, played by Shane Borge, who says the show “tackles a lot of human emotion and human ideas.”
The actors have a wealth of performance experience between them, and were all excited to work under the direction of Ricky Jones, who in turn calls the ensemble cast “amazing.”
“It’s a very delicate balance to keep true to the story while also keeping true to real people,” says Jones, who adds the local community votes on which plays are chosen for Maui OnStage.
“They really cater to more of a collaborative process, from selection of the material to trying to get as many people into each production as we can, to give everyone the experience of working on a show,” he explains.
The actors dedicated themselves to the characters for about six weeks of rehearsals with Maui OnStage, which Galvan calls “a huge heart center of the community.” All the actors, in fact, were clearly honored to be part of the Historic ‘Iao Theater, which has been part of Wailuku town since 1928.
“It seems like it’s always been here, so I think there’s more of an importance to make sure it stays and not take it for granted,” says Taua.
Carrion says the theatre group “brings the world to Maui,” and has been part of the acting community for 15 years.
“I keep coming back year after year because I love the people who run this place, I love the people who volunteer, the actors, I love everybody; it’s like a family here,” he smiles.
Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, plus 3 p.m. Sundays, April 26 through May 12 at the Historic ‘Īao Theater. Tickets are $20 to $40. To purchase tickets for any ‘Īao Theater event, call 242-6969 or order online at the Maui Onstage website.