REVIEW: The Boys Next Door (Metropolis Arts)

  
  

Metropolis succeeds in shining a light on special needs

  
  

'The Boys Next Door' by Tom Griffin - Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights

  
Metropolis Performing Arts Centre presents
  
The Boys Next Door
  
Written by Tom Griffin
Directed by David Belew
Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights (map)
through Feb 13  |  tickets: $35-$43  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Arnold has decided that he’s going to move to Russia. Barry thinks he’s a golf star. Norman can’t stop eating donuts and Lucien is concerned that they don’t have any trees. These men are all roommates and they all have special needs. They’re looked after by Jack, the caretaker who works with them. Metropolis Performing Arts Centre’s production of The Boys Next Door, tenderly written by Tom Griffin, tells the story of how these five men’s lives are interwoven and the effect each man has on the other.

'The Boys Next Door' by Tom Griffin - Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington HeightsThe set, designed by Adam L. Veness, initially consists of a typical-looking, unassuming front porch complete with shutters on the windows and a rocking chair out front. Painted a deep green, it looks inviting and charming. Once the show begins, the house opens down the middle like an oversized doll house to reveal the inside rooms, in particular the apartment the four men live in. Although moving the set piece is noisy, it’s an interesting visual to get a glimpse into the inner and outer workings of this building.

The Boys Next Door opens on the men having a typical day. Arnold (Andrew J. Pond) has been to the market and explains his trip as well as his condition as he understands it. He’s a “nervous person,” he says, and Pond is immediately charming and engaging. His characterization of Arnold is strong and humanized. Also introduced are Norman (David Elliot) and Lucien (Bear Bellinger). They are the two of the four men who live in the apartment. Both Elliot and Bellinger play their characters in a charming and lovely manner. It’s clearly evident that these actors did their research in order to learn every aspect of their characters and it comes across and genuine and believable. It’s not actors playing parts, but rather actors transforming into these new people and fully embodying these men. The fourth roommate is Barry (Adam Kander), who, like the rest, has been fully embraced and brought life. Kander carefully shows the cracks in Barry’s seemingly put together demeanor to reveal the true feelings underneath – you can’t help but feel for him.

As the men are going about their lives, Jack (Michael B. Woods), their caretaker, comes in to check on them. He is sweet and patient with these men; it’s evident he sincerely cares about them. Like the others, Woods put a lot of thought and consideration into his character. What makes him feel most genuine is the fact that he is not sugarcoated nor does Woods play him as such. Jack shows the audience all sides of his life, including the fact that he loses his temper on occasion with the men and that he is burning out in his current situation. Woods does a wonderful job of displaying the range of emotions, allowing it to feel like the audience gets a glimpse into the real life of this man.

     
'The Boys Next Door' by Tom Griffin - Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights 'The Boys Next Door' by Tom Griffin - Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights

Every week the men attend a dance, and it’s here where Norman meets his girlfriend Sheila (Denise Tamburrino). She’s sweet and lovely, although not as believable as the men in her characterization. Michelle Ziccarelli rounds out the main portion of the cast, playing the multiple characters of Mrs. Fremus, Mrs. Warren and Clara, distinctly defining each one.

David Belew’s adept direction keeps energy and emotion of the show moving at a quick pace.  In fact, when Act I ended I looked at my watch and was shocked at how time had flown by. Same goes for Act II. Although the ending seems a little abrupt and like the action should continue, the pace is quick and the energy stays high the whole time.

The Boys Next Door waivers on that fine line between comedy and tragedy, pulling from both to create a touching, funny, sad and wonderful portrayal of how five men live their lives and what it means to have each other in their lives. They create a genuine emotional connection with the audience that both tickles the funny bones and pulls on the heart strings. Mostly importantly, the play never mocks or pokes fun at those with special needs, but simply offers a glimpse into their lives.

  
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
  

The Boys Next Door plays at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St. Arlington Heights, Ill., through February 20. Tickets are $35 to $43 and can be purchased here. Read an excerpt from The Boys Next Door.

'The Boys Next Door' by Tom Griffin - Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights

     
     

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REVIEW: You Took Away My Flag (Modofac Productions)

Take away these lyrics

 

253_FINAL-YOU_TOOK_AWAY_MY_FLAG-wo_strawdog

 
Modofac Productions, LLC presents
 
You Took Away My Flag: a Musical About Kosovo
 
Book, music and lyrics by Henry H. Perritt Jr.
Directed by
G. J. Cederquist; musical direction by Jeremy Ramey
At
Theatre Building Chicago, Lakeview
Through May 23 (more info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Henry H. Perritt Jr., the Chicago-Kent College of Law professor who authored and produced You Took Away My Flag: a Musical About Kosovo knows a lot about his play’s subject — he authored two books about the disputed Balkan territory and spent 10 years working toward its redevelopment as an independent state — and something about writing music.

What he doesn’t know is the first rule of drama: Show. Don’t tell.

There’s so much exposition in this musical, it could be a textbook. And it doesn’t help a bit that it’s a sung-through format, so all this explication comes at us in recitative form. Even worse, the lyrics often jar against the music with too many feet per beat, poor scansion and bad rhymes, in awful couplets like these:

 

"Your kind heart will keep you from ever
Using that AK47."

"Must we endure the Serbians’ yoke un-
Til our backs are truly broken?"

"Talk all you want. I don’t care.
Successful insurgencies are really rare."

The exposition begins with the opening song, in which the narrator, a trench-coated American reporter (Brian Birch), gives us some history of the conflict in Kosovo between the occupying, Serbs and the "proud Albanians" — the story is unabashedly 253_FINAL-YOU_TOOK_AWAY_MY_FLAG-wo_strawdogpro-Albanian — and sets us up to meet 18-year-old Arian (Jordan Phelps), his best friend, Fahri (Ethan Saks), and Arian’s older sister, Vjosa (Amy Steele). The three all work in a cafe run by the siblings’ father, Fatmir (Joshua Harris).

Arian chafes under Serbian military law, but Vjosa is just as bothered by the strictures of Albanian society, and longs for the freedom of America. She is secretly in love with a Serbian officer, Dragan (Shaun Nathan Baer), an unheard-of miscegeny. The boys enrage some Serbian soldiers by taunting them with the Albanian flag. While Dragan protects Arian, one of his men kills Fahri. Vowing revenge, Arian goes off to join the Kosovo Liberation Army, a band of guerrillas led by Driton (Patrick Cannon).

Meanwhile, Dragan drunkenly asks Vjosa if she still loves him. She does, but she’s not above stealing secret Serbian plans from him to give to her brother. Fatmir and the reporter try unsuccessfully to get the U.N. to intervene in Kosovo. The fighting goes on, the passage of time symbolized by the reporter’s increasingly blood-stained trench coat, and the purloined plans make no difference.

253_FINAL-YOU_TOOK_AWAY_MY_FLAG-wo_strawdog Guilt-stricken Dragan gives the reporter compromising photos of Serbian atrocities that bring international aid at last, and NATO bombs the Serbs out of Kosovo. The proud Albanian Kosovars next struggle with international authorities, ultimately declaring independence but never getting back their Albanian flag.

Parts of the plot seem unlikely, yet not more so than in other musicals. But there’s way too much of it — too many complexities and too many scenes covering too long a time period.

The young cast, all beautiful singers and fine actors, do a heroic job with the material. The music, if not always melodious, is pleasant enough, and sometimes stirring, with a contemporary pop sound. Music director Jeremy Ramey and his musicians (David Orlicz, Nick Anderson and Nick Boettcher) give the score everything they can, but the tunes and the performances have no chance at all against the relentless horribleness of all those words.

 

Rating: ★½

 

 

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