I recently read The Boys Next Door by Tom Griffin. A scene was performed from it at Northampton Community College’s Act Two showcase and grabbed my interest for the play as a whole. A sweet tale about the lives of four men who have struggle with various degrees of mental handicap, The Boys Next Door is a call for the dignity of the disabled community.
Lucian, Norman, Arnold, and Barry live in a group home together; Shelia is Norman’s girlfriend from one of the women’s group homes nearby; Jack is their social worker; and we even get an introduction, a horrific and tragic one, to Barry’s father, Mr. Klemper. Mr. Griffin does an amazing job of portraying these precious characters with the strengths and weakness that come with their disability. Growing up with two mentally-handicapped men, I appreciated how respectful of the characters Mr. Griffin was and the dignity that he gave them, while not being afraid of allowing the antics that they perform to bring humor in the play and acknowledging that taking care of them is a very hard job. Through Jack’s character we get a glimpse of how demanding and how rewarding social work can be for those who see their clients as people and build relationships with them.
One of my favorite scenes of the play is one we will be doing at summer camp this year. It’s the scene when Shelia comes to the house for the first time to visit Norman. It is a precious, sweet scene, watching these two people navigate love and affection. Another part of the play which I loved and would be interested in seeing if we could do it as scene at summer camp is when Lucian testifies at the State Senate at a hearing to determine whether he is handicapped enough to receive state funding.
It is one of the most profound scenes in the play. Mr. Griffin starts us out with the normal court proceedings, the probing questions and the stuttered responses. But all the sudden, we switch from Lucian’s jumbled recitation of the alphabet and his proud declaration of his spiderman tie to inside Lucian, that part of him that understands his humanity better than his brain does. For an instant Lucian is free, and he explains who and what is he, and why so often we struggle to embrace and love and value people like him. The moment is brief and he returns quickly to his tie and his letters, but the impact of the monologue is vast.
It’s a great play. It’s on my list of shows I would consider directing at some point and would love to see performed life. Check your local library to see if they have a copy of the script. Maybe read sections of it with your family. If does contain some language and discussion about some mature content, so it may not be appropriate for everyone, but I think could be used as a valuable tool to start a conversation with people about how to love the mentally handicapped community and to plant seeds of recognition that their disabilities do not take away from their dignity.