The Sam Bass Community Theater is neatly tucked into a little corner of Round Rock, within spitting distance of the juncture of I-35 and Ranch Road 620. The Sam Bass has been delivering quality theatre for more than 30 years. I don’t mean to imply that every show they produce is amazing because that would not be true. But, their current production of The Boys Next Door by Tom Griffin and directed by Eric Nelson is indeed a gem of a show with some amazingly talented young men delivering truly noteworthy performances. There are also two women in the cast and they do a fine job, but this is primarily the guys’ show.
Four mentally challenged young men, Arnold, Lucien, Norman, and Barry, live in a group home. With the support of each other and their caseworker Jack, they are able to function outside the confines of a state institution. R. Michael Clinkscales delivers a touching performance as Barry, a high-functioning schizophrenic whose father abandoned him 9 years ago after the death of Barry’s mother. Christian Huey gives a powerful performance as Arnold, a compulsive personality who works at a movie theatre in a low-level job where he is bullied by a co-worker. Arnold’s mantra is to escape his current circumstances by taking a train to Russia. Lucien P. Smith, brilliantly played by Robert King, Jr., captures that paradox of a man with the mental capacity of a little boy. Rounding out the group is Norman who works in a doughnut shop and whose budding love for Sheila is second only to his fixation for his shiny keys. Christian Huey’s portrayal of Norman is sensitive and respectful. All of these actors do a fantastic job of delivering believably handicapped individuals without being disrespectful to those who live with these challenges every day. The glue that holds these men’s lives together is Jack, the earnest, but increasingly burned-out caseworker. Adam Rowland’s nuanced, sensitive portrayal of Jack was one of high-points of the production for me. We never laugh at these young men. We respect their tremendous strength as they deal with life’s challenges and strive to create meaningful lives. Sara DeSoto delivers a solid performance as Sheila and Linda Myers does a really nice job of crafting three different characters: Mrs. Fremus, Mrs. Warren, and Clara showing that she has versatility and range.
Director Eric Nelson deserves a tip of the hat for deftly bringing this tender, touching, funny story to life. Nelson has crafted a show that moves well, without giving up the moments of tenderness and without losing some of the sheer comedy and joy that comes from being around handicapped individuals. Most likely because this show and subject matter is close to his heart.
The Boys Next Door runs through March 8 at the Sam Bass Community Theatre. For performance times and ticket information, go to http://www.sambasstheatre.org.